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Position review: What will Giants do about the offensive line?

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Where to play Ereck Flowers is only the first domino

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NFL: NFC Wild Card-New York Giants at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

OK, New York Giants fans, today it is time to get down to brass tacks in our ongoing position-by-position look at the team heading into the 2017 offseason. Today we discuss the offensive line, the biggest area of concern both entering and leaving the 2016 season.

2016 season

When you look at the myriad of reasons why the Giants’ offense flopped last season, and there are many, the poor play of the offensive line is at the top of the list.

Not enough pass protection for Eli Manning. Football Outsiders ranked the Giants No. 2 in the league in pass protection with an Adjusted Sack Rate of 3.9 percent. That, though, was about Manning getting rid of the ball quickly, not about him being well-protected. He wasn’t.

Not enough run blocking to give the Giants any semblance of a consistent or reliable ground game.

Pro Football Focus ranked the Giants 20th overall among offensive lines and said they “may have fielded the worst pair of tackles in the game this season.”

“Ereck Flowers began the season with three solid games, surrendering just five total QB pressures and no hits or sacks over that time, suggesting that he had turned a corner from his ugly rookie season—but then he went in the tank, and was horrendous down the stretch. After the aforementioned three games, he allowed 54 total QB pressures in his final 13 games, with 10 penalties adding to his woes. On the right side, Bobby Hart surrendered 46 total QB pressures himself, and if anything, those numbers flattered his performance; when he was beaten, it tended to be immediately and result in severe pressure.”

Flowers finished 59th among 80 qualifying offensive tackles graded by PFF. Hart, the second-year man who started 13 games after Marshall Newhouse injured a calf, was worse. He finished 69th. Using PFF’s grading system, both Flowers (48.4 overall grade) and Hart (41.0) were in the “poor” category. Newhouse, splitting time at right tackle and left guard, ended up with a grade of 69.4.

The middle of the line did OK. Justin Pugh played well at left guard, but missed five games with a knee injury. Center Weston Richburg didn’t take the step forward to Pro Bowl level play that had been anticipated, but did well enough. Right guard John Jerry, as always was an adequate player better in pass protection than run blocking.

2017 free agents

Marshall Newhouse (Unrestricted)
Will Beatty (Unrestricted)
John Jerry (Unrestricted)

Offseason decisions to make

Everything, of course, begins with what the Giants decide to do with Flowers. Will the 2015 first-round pick stay at left tackle? Move to right tackle? Move to right guard?

GM Jerry Reese spent the 2016 offseason trying to convince veteran free-agent left tackles to join the Giants and play right tackle, having committed to giving Flowers a second season to prove whether or not he could handle the left tackle job. Reese is no longer closed to the idea of a position switch for Flowers:

“It is time for him to show us the fruits of being a first round draft pick, and I still think he has a chance to do that,” Reese said at his season-ending press conference. “Is he the left tackle? Should he be in a different position? We will evaluate that.”

The Flowers decision, of course, has a domino effect. If Flowers isn’t the left tackle, who is? That player certainly isn’t on the current roster. If Flowers is the right tackle, does Bobby Hart get an opportunity to compete at right guard? Do the Giants keep Jerry? Does Brett Jones get a chance to earn the right guard spot? Do the Giants bring back Newhouse as a reserve after he showed value and versatility in 2016 by capably handling a few games at guard?

Draft/FA priority level

High. Sky high. Aaron Rodgers “your stuff is on fire, you better call the fire department” high. The Giants have plenty of other things to address, but they have to get the offensive line fixed. If they can’t do that, the offense as a whole will never function the way they need it to.

Unfortunately, this is shaping up as a difficult offseason in which to need offensive line help. Draft analysts believe there are few players — maybe just Cam Robinson of Alabama, Ryan Ramczyk of Wisconsin and Garret Bolles of Utah — capable of stepping in and starting at left tackle. The best free-agent left tackle is 35-year-old Andrew Whitworth, an obvious stop-gap. The guard market could be more expensive than the Giants might like.

The need is great, and the Giants will undoubtedly explore their options once they make a decision on Flowers. The problem will be that they won’t have a plethora of options.