The New York Giants have signed free-agent offensive lineman D.J. Fluker, bringing at least some comfort to a fan base starved to see the team do something — anything — to try and upgrade their offensive line for the 2017 season.
Here are my five takeaways from the Fluker signing.
This is how you bargain shop
On Day 1 of the free agency signing period former Giants punter Jeff Feagles reminded fans starving for the Giants to get offensive line help that it’s “hard to shop with food stamps.” This is how you do that.
You don’t shop the expensive top shelf at Macy’s, where NFL teams were paying exorbitant prices for players with questions about age, injury and ability. You wait and look for gently-worn gems that fit a need to show up at the thrift store.
The Giants got Fluker on a deal reported to be one-year, $3 million. That, to my knowledge, is the cheapest deal signed by a free-agent offensive lineman up until now. Fluker is a still-young player who will be 26 next season, a guy who could play guard or tackle, a player the Giants really liked coming out of Alabama and one who should be highly-motivated to play well in 2017.
One concern has to be that Fluker has suffered three concussions in his career. The last one, though, came in 2015.
Guard or tackle?
Fluker spent most of his first two seasons at right tackle for the then-San Diego Chargers. He spent the last two seasons at right guard. Where will he play for the Giants?
First of all, let’s realize that Fluker isn’t guaranteed a starting spot. He is going to have to earn one.
ESPN’s Jordan Ranaan wrote Sunday morning that the “expectation is that Fluker will play guard.”
Offensive line consultant Duke Manyweather and former offensive lineman turned SB Nation contributor Geoff Schwartz both told me they believe Fluker is a better fit at guard than tackle. There are others, though, who believe the Giants could be looking at Fluker for the right tackle spot.
I’d say Fluker probably winds up at guard. How the rest of the offseason plays out might ultimately determine what happens. Will the Giants bring back John Jerry, last year’s starter at right guard? Will they be able to add competition to the right side of the line in the draft?
We’ll see. The Giants, though, have more options that they did before signing Fluker, and that’s a good thing.
What he brings to the table
Versatilty, of course. But, maybe more importantly, physicality. Watch the clip below.
DJ Fluker's play strength + competitive toughness = very good. Hand usage + mental processing = solid. #Chargers #TraitBasedScouting pic.twitter.com/qpnthVct1L— Brandon Thorn (@VeteranScout) December 6, 2016
Jerry is an average to good pass protector and a below-average run blocker. I don’t ever remember him driving a player out of a hole the way Fluker did on a couple of those plays.
“He can be a very good player,” Schwartz said. “Will add some physically into the run game.”
Fluker is a powerful 6-foot-5, 339-pound man. He had ups and downs with the Chargers, who cut him loose rather than pay him an $8.821 million fifth-year option for 2017. Football Outsiders ranked the San Diego offensive line 23rd in run blocking last season and 24th in pass protection, and the Chargers were willing to move on without him. He surrendered 4.5 sacks in 2016. Pro Football Focus scored him with only a 46.0 run-blocking grade. Still, PFF sounded an optimistic note in discussing the move:
“Fluker is only 25 years old and has tremendous length so there is clearly something for the Giants to work with.”
It’s all about the run game
I know I just pointed out that Fluker had a poor run-blocking score in 2016. The clips above from Brandon Thorn, though, point to what Fluker can do in the run game when he is at his best.
The Giants have, in some way, aimed to improve their running game with each of their free-agent moves thus far.
Fluker, as we said, is a powerful player who can drive defenders off the ball when he is playing well. Tight end/fullback Rhett Ellison gives the Giants what they hoped Will Johnson would be a year ago, and is a better blocker from the edge or in the backfield than anyone the Giants used in that role during 2016. Even Brandon Marshall, at 6-4 and 230 pounds, has a reputation for being a willing and physical blocker on the outside. That is something Victor Cruz, at 6-0, 205, could not offer.
Telegraphing their move
Somehow, it always comes back to Ereck Flowers. Fluker is not an answer at left tackle, though he played there briefly as a rookie. The Giants have not said so, but at this point all of their moves are making it seem that unless a player who is an obvious improvement falls out of the sky and lands in their laps that Flowers is likely to stay at left tackle.
The moves the Giants have made thus far have been aimed at improving the blocking around Flowers. There was some incremental improvement from Flowers a year ago. At 23 and entering his third year, the Giants appear willing to bank on more. Whether it comes via the later signing of a veteran left tackle or via the drafting of a young, developmental player don’t be surprised if the Giants add a player who at least appears to be competition for Flowers. Pushing him a little can only help.
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