“We gotta fix the oline let’s be honest, let’s not kid each other,” Gettleman said. “Big men allow you to compete, and that’s what we’ve gotta fix.”
That quote came from freshly hired New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman. It’s an easy thing to say, but much harder to do — as a number of teams around the NFL can attest.
So, how is he going to do it?
The first thing Gettleman, and whoever he hires to be the Giants’ head coach, will have to do is decide what kind of offensive line they want to field. It sounds elementary, but the line will form the basis for their offensive scheme, and they will need to assemble a group of players that can play within that scheme.
Next, they will have to take a look at the options in-house, and that will present several challenges. The Giants have few starting quality offensive linemen, and their four best linemen are free agents.
- Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg — We have to start here. Not only are they the Giants’ two best offensive linemen, at their best, they are among the best offensive linemen on the free agent market this year. Pugh has proven his worth as a very good left guard with the versatility to be a quality right tackle as well. Richburg was (arguably) the best center in the NFL in 2015 and among the best pass-protecting interior linemen in the league despite playing with a torn ligament in his snapping hand in 2016. The injury, and departure of Geoff Schwartz, clearly impacted Richburg’s ability to run block that year, but when he has a powerful right guard next to him, he has proven effective. But therein lies the rub with both players: Injury. Both players have significant injury histories, and the Giants have to assess how dependable they are, and what kind of value they can justify placing on them.
- D.J. Fluker — The 2017 free agent addition is a merely adequate pass protector, but is massively powerful and his presence in the Giants’ lineup was responsible for the Giants’ spike in rushing production from among the league’s worst, to among the league’s best. And then his absence coincides with a drop back down to the league’s cellar. Beyond that, Fluker brings a positive attitude and competitive toughness to the locker room. He isn’t the best right guard on the market (that is probably Carolina’s Andrew Norwell), but if the Giants want to play a scheme in which Fluker’s limited mobility isn’t a liability, he should be an affordable and solid piece going forward.
- Brett Jones — Jones was brought in as an undrafted free agent out of Canada three years ago and had largely been an enigma in New York. Serving as the Giants’ principle back up interior offensive lineman, Jones flashed the ability that made him the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie, and Most Outstanding Lineman in his second year. However, injury always seemed to rob him of his opportunity. Finally getting extended playing time, he has played well in relief of Richburg this season. The decision on Jones is probably the easiest to make: He is a restricted free agent and it will cost little to keep him for next season as either the team’s starting center or as a high-level backup to Richburg should he be re-signed.
- John Jerry - Another free agent addition, intended to back up Geoff Schwartz, Jerry has been largely reviled since becoming a starter at right guard for the Giants. It almost seems like something out of a Greek tragedy (had the ancient Greeks written plays about football) that Jerry finally seems to have found his natural spot at left guard just in time to be a potential cap casualty as the Giants go about their rebuilding process. But Jerry has played well since moving to left guard (after Pugh was moved to secure the right tackle position). He isn’t yet a free agent, but he carries a sizable cap number and is on the wrong side of 30. Gettleman will need to decide whether or not to move on and free up salary for other players.
- Ereck Flowers - Ahh, Ereck Flowers. Gettleman will have absolutely no ties or sentiment to Flowers, and it’s possible that he could be moved this off-season. However, it is also possible that Giants’ fans should prepare themselves for the possibility that Flowers will once again be the team’s left tackle. Flowers might well be the Giants’ best option for an offensive tackle (a third possibility is that he is moved to the right side, but whether that helps the offensive line in any way would remain to be seen).
From there they will need to take a look at the options outside of the franchise — namely free agency and the draft.
Without digging in to those options — we aren’t there yet — it looks as though the pool of tangible upgrades will be shallow wherever the Giants look. [Current list of 2018 offensive line free agents]
Fixing the offensive line could mean re-signing the Giants’ own free agents and putting off acquiring a quarterback. From there they could move back in the draft (something Gettleman professed his willingness to do), and drafting a player like Texas OT Conner Williams or Notre Dame LG Quenton Nelson.
On the other hand, one potential benefit of the status of the questions surrounding the Giants’ offensive line is that the instability affords them options and freedom. They don’t have any players on onerous, long term contracts, and the incoming regime will have the freedom to build the offensive line from scratch should they so choose.
So where does all this self-scouting leave us? Well, with a lot of questions for one. We can’t know what the future scheme will be, or the assessment of the talent currently in-house. Those first decisions — to be made over the coming weeks — will likely determine whether the Gettleman opts for a “Scorched Earth” rebuilding method or simply building on the work of his predecessor.