New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese has been robustly criticized for not doing anything significant last offseason in an effort to improve what was an inadequate offensive line in 2016. That’s because it has, for the most part, been an inadequate offensive line this season as the Giants have fallen to 1-6.
The player most thought would be logical to pursue with quarterback Eli Manning playing at the age of 36, was 35-year-old Andrew Whitworth, a Pro Bowler in each of the past two seasons.
The Giants stood pat, though, and Whitworth signed a three-year, $33.75 million contract ($15 million guaranteed) with Sunday’s opponent, the 5-2 Los Angeles Rams.
So, how much difference has Whitworth, four years older than Los Angeles head coach Sean McVay, made as the Rams have averaged 30.3 points per game and already surpassed their 2016 total of four victories?
“He’s been outstanding. He’s influencing and affecting his teammates in a positive way, really from day one, since he got in here,” McVay said Wednesday in a conference call with New York media. “He kind of did at first by just kind of observing and doing things the right way every single day and then he started to really be able to coach guys up and has been a great example of what it looks like to be a pro.
“You see why he’s been so successful throughout the course of his career. He’s also been a great resource for me to lean on, as far as just trusting the players, empowering them. Very thankful to have such a great leader, a great person, great player like him on our team.”
The Giants would have had to structure their offseason differently to sign Whitworth, who had spent his entire career with the Cincinnati Bengals before signing with the Rams. They could not have signed wide receiver Brandon Marshall and would probably have had to forego the signings of a few other players, notably tight end Rhett Ellison (four years, $18 million, $8 million guaranteed).
What could Whitworth have done for the Giants? He would have been their left tackle, allowing Ereck Flowers to move to the right side and Justin Pugh to stay at left guard where he is best suited. That would have improved the line, and added depth. Whitworth also would have added leadership and professionalism to a locker room that apparently could use a bit more of both.
To be fair, signing 35-year-old free agents to lucrative free agent contract is generally not good business.
“Do you want to try to develop a 23-year old guy, or do you want to bring in a 36-year old guy? We chose to go with the young guy,” is the explanation GM Jerry Reese offered during the bye week for passing on Whitworth.
The young Rams, with the league’s youngest head coach and a second-year quarterback in whom they invested the first overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, had no such hesitation.
McVay admitted that the Rams “absolutely had a major priority on” signing Whitworth.
Also to be fair, perhaps Whitworth’s play has slipped just a tiny bit. Pro Football Focus has him graded as the seventh-ranked tackle in the league after being No. 2 a season ago. He has allowed three sacks.
McVay admitted that Whitworth is an “outlier” in terms of an offensive lineman performing as well as Whitworth is at an advanced NFL age.
“You know, when you look back at the history of the league and it’s kind of a little bit different, just based on signing a tackle with his amount of experience, but I think it’s also important to consider, what does the tape look like? What is the production down in and down out, how does he take care of himself? He’s played at a Pro Bowl caliber level the last couple years and been extremely efficient, extremely productive and takes great care of himself,” McVay said. “So, I think that’s why you see him kind of as the outlier for those tackles that you go pay them the amount of money that you do. But, he’s certainly making us right on that decision right now.”
The Giants’ 1-6 record and their struggles to field a functional offensive line are proving them wrong.
Sunday, Giants fans get to see first-hand what might have been.