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NFL Free Agency 2017: “Five things I think I think” about Day 1

What happened Thursday, and what might come next

NFL: New York Giants at Cleveland Browns
Ereck Flowers
Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

With Day of 2017 NFL Free agency in the books, let’s begin our Friday with some thoughts about what the New York Giants did and did not do. It’s a bonus “Five things I think I think” which even includes a bit of non-Giants talk.

No offensive tackle? That’s not a surprise

Offensive tackle, offensive tackle, offensive tackle. All day Thursday, shoot, even going back to Wednesday when the Giants signed wide receiver Brandon Marshall, I heard constant cries from Giants fans on Twitter and Facebook wondering when the Giants were going to make a move on the offensive line.

As we know now, it didn’t happen. That doesn’t mean it won’t, but it hasn’t. Why? Did you check the price tags? Five years, $55 million with $25 million guaranteed for Matt Kalil? Four years and $53 million ($13.25 million guaranteed) for Russell Okung? Three years, $36 million with $15 million guaranteed for 35-year-old Andrew Whitworth? Even the guard contracts were eye-popping.

The Giants, with, according to Spotrac, slightly more than $8 million in cap space not counting the signing of Rhett Ellison, simply do not have the money to compete in a market where teams are vastly overpaying for players at that position.

During one of my debates with fans on Twitter, former Giant punter Jeff Feagles (hi Jeff, thanks for the help!) jumped in. He summarized the situation perfectly.

Expect the Giants to make some type of move, or moves, to add to the offensive line during the second wave of free agency. That’s the time when you can get useful players at bargain prices. D.J. Fluker, Austin, Pazstor and Ryan Clady could be names to watch. After all of Thursday’s moves there are certain to be more starting-caliber offensive linemen being let go by their teams. Also, there are always some surprising players cut loose. So, just because the Giants did not find help on Day 1 doesn’t mean they won’t. Today is March 10. The regular season is six months away.

About Ereck Flowers and left tackle

I was going to include this in the section about the offensive tackle market. because it really is part of it, but talk about Flowers requires its own category.

Fans have been screaming for months that the Giants need to move Flowers to right tackle, to right guard, to the bench, to the trash bin. Whatever. Anything but another year of Flowers at left tackle, struggling to protect the blind side of Eli Manning.

Well, folks, at this point it looks like that’s an idea you just might need to come to grips with. The players who would have been obvious upgrades are gone, too expensive for the Giants.

Maybe a top-flight left tackle suddenly, somehow, becomes available. Maybe the Giants are able to draft Ryan Ramczyk or Garett Bolles, and they decide to roll the dice with a rookie on the left side. Don’t count on those things, though.

There is also this. Flowers is going to play. He was the ninth overall pick in the draft. He is entering his third year. He will only be 23 next season. Jerry Reese is famously patient — yes, sometimes too patient — with his draft picks. Many fans may have given up on the idea that Flowers can be a left tackle, but I doubt the general manager has. Reading the tea leaves — there is no inside information attached to this — there is a better than even chance at this point that Flowers is the left tackle next season.

Unless, of course, someone clearly better falls into the Giants’ lap.

Rhett Ellison signing

Many Giants fans were left scratching their heads Thursday afternoon, wondering “who the heck is Rhett Ellison and why did the Giants just guarantee him $8 million bucks?”

So, I think we need to talk about that.

Ellison, 28, is a five-year veteran tight end/fullback known for his run-blocking prowess.

I’m not crazy about guaranteeing $8 million to a pure blocker with a career-best 19 receptions in a season. Then again, with the prices being paid to offensive linemen $8 million is pretty much chump change. Nice chump change if you can get it, but chump change nonetheless.

It has been apparent that the Giants are intent on upgrading their running game. That is one reason Rashad Jennings is no longer a Giant. It is the biggest reason Ellison is. The tight end/fullback is critical to that. How many times last season did a Giants’ running play blow up because a tight end couldn’t execute a lead block?

Successful running plays are not just about the five offensive linemen. The tight end must be able to make a lead block or an edge block. Wide receivers have to contribute and, by the way, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Brandon Marshall has a reputation as an outstanding blocker for a wide receiver. The running back has to be able to find a crease and, sometimes, create something on his own.

I will admit to not knowing much about Ellison myself. If, however, he turns out to be what the Giants are paying him for this will be a good move.

By the way, I have to admit that I feel bad for Will Johnson, who admitted Thursday night he expects the Giants to release him. Ellison now has the job Johnson was brought to the Giants to do a year ago, and that he never got the chance to do because of an injury.

I had the pleasure of speaking one-on-one with Johnson last spring. He is a good guy. I hope he finds a team that will give him another chance.

The Browns are being ... smart?

This is obviously not Giants-related, but we have to talk about it.

I think there needs to be an investigation! How on earth did the Cleveland Browns suddenly morph into a franchise that seems to know what it is doing?

Cleveland pulled off a trade Thursday that left everyone shaking their head and looking to an entirely different sport — professional basketball — to figure out what had just happened. MMQB has a great look at how the Browns pulled off a trade that could change the way teams do business.

The Browns used their massive cap space to trade for a quarterback they don’t want — Brock Osweiler — and a second-round pick. The Browns also swapped a fourth-round compensatory pick to the Houston Texans in the deal for a sixth-round comp pick. They will either trade or dump Osweiler.

Essentially, Cleveland did an NBA-style thing. The Browns gave the Texans cap relief in order to add a second-round pick.

The Browns also built a fortress of an offensive line. They gave guard Joel Bitonio an extension and added free agents Kevin Zeitler (a guard) and J.C. Tretter (a center).

Without anyone really noticing, the Browns have managed to collect 22 — yes, 22! — draft picks over the next two seasons. They have 11 picks in each of the next two drafts.

At this rate, they won’t be the bumbling, lovable loser Browns much longer.

Whither Johnathan Hankins’ big pay day?

The word I used on Thursday when the question of news about the market for Johnathan Hankins kept coming up was ... “crickets.” There wasn’t any news. I think that is very surprising. Question is, might that be good news for the Giants?

Brandon Williams got a five-year, $54 million deal from the Baltimore Ravens, blowing past Damon Harrison’s five-year, $46.25 million deal from a year ago. Chris Baker, Nick Fairley and Calais Campbell found homes.

Hankins? Crickets. No word about any teams being interested. No visits. No offers. At least nothing that became public knowledge. Could Big Hank wind up back with the Giants. Big Blue only has $8.828 million in cap space, per Spotrac, and that doesn’t include the Rhett Ellison deal. So, there isn’t much money. If there is no market for Hankins, though, anything is possible.

As Ben McAdoo says, “never say never.”

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