Just a couple of weeks into the offseason it feels like we have already spent a lot of time discussing the rebuilding of the New York Giants offensive line. In a way, that’s true. It was part of my look at the offseason plan for fixing the Giants. It was also a major part of GM Dave Gettleman’s season-ending press conference.
As we slowly work our way through position reviews for the 2018 Giants [tight end | wide receiver] it is time, though, to focus on that offensive line. We will try to go into a bit more depth on each player than we have in previous posts.
When we talk about the Giants’ 2018 offensive line the discussion always has to begin with Gettleman’s self-proclaimed mission statement when he was introduced at the team’s GM in late December of 2017:
“We’ve got to fix the o-line, let’s be honest. Let’s not kid each other. I told you at the top, big men allow you to compete and that’s what we’ve got to fix.”
The GM turned over four starters entering the 2018 season, and moved the fifth from left tackle to right tackle. The line was always going to be different than the one the Giants had trotted out the previous few seasons. Was it going to be any better?
The answer? Not really. At least not at the beginning.
The Giants began with a starting line of Nate Solder (LT), Will Hernandez (LG), Jon Halapio (C), Patrick Omameh (RG), Ereck Flowers (RT).
They ended with a line of Solder (LT), Hernandez (LG), Spencer Pulley (C), Jamon Brown (RG), Chad Wheeler (RT).
They began the season with a line that was abominable, giving up 31 sacks in the first eight games. They ended it with a line that was serviceable, but still in need of upgrades.
Let’s go through it.
The exiled — The Giants began the season with Omameh and Flowers making up the right side of their line. That duo ended the season as the left side of the line for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Signing Omameh to a three-year, $15 million deal was a mistake. There is no other way to look at it. Gettleman lauded Omameh’s professionalism, but his play was awful. He last six games before the Giants admitted their mistake, benched him and eventually cut him. The Giants ended up paying Omameh $5.6 million for those six games, per Over The Cap.
Flowers was part of the “clean slate” crew. Gettleman and new coach Pat Shurmur promised that everyone on the roster had a clean slate with them, regardless of what had happened in the past. If that promise was going to have teeth, if it was going to resonate in the locker room, it couldn’t mean “everyone but Flowers has a clean slate.”
When Flowers finally joined his teammates about a month after the start of OTAs, the last player to show up, the Giants handed him the right tackle job. They gave him all the first-team reps in practice. Solder spent time with him.
From the first play of the season, when Flowers was called for a tripping penalty and later admitted he didn’t know the tendencies of Jacksonville defensive end Calais Campbell, it was obvious it wasn’t going to work.
The Giants benched Flowers for Wheeler after two games, and cut him a few weeks later.
“Not every move’s going to work out, oh by the way, as we’ve seen,” Gettleman said. “The other part of it is, I believe in that definition of insanity – keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result. It’s true, so you’ve also seen that we make a decision and if it’s not working, we will make a change.”
The high-priced free agent — The Giants were expected to make a big run at All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell in free agency. They did, but Norwell chose to sign with the Jaguars. The Giants quickly pivoted and signed Solder, the best left tackle on the market, to a four-year $62 million deal with $34.8 million guaranteed. Only Taylor Lewan of the Tennessee Titans ($16 million) makes more on an annual basis.
The signing was an overpay. The Giants know that. They had to have a solid veteran around whom to begin their rebuild, though, and the fact that Solder was a left tackle who would allow them to move Flowers made it even better.
The signing looked awful the first half of the season when Solder gave up six sacks and just didn’t look like a good left tackle. Over the final eight games, though, the 30-year-old gave up only one sack. His Pro Football Focus grades are right in line with what he’s done throughout his career and his pressures allowed (33) was the fewest full-season total in his eight-year career.
Solder gave the Giants exactly what they thought they were getting. A good player and a locker room leader.
The rookie — Drafted in the second round, Will Hernandez drew comparisons to the best offensive lineman the Giants had when they won two Super Bowls during the Tom Coughlin era. That, of course, is Chris Snee. Hernandez allowed five sacks, but none in his last nine games. The only rookie offensive lineman who graded higher, per PFF, was sixth overall pick Quenton Nelson of the Indianapolis Colts.
The patchwork position — You ever eat goulash? Personally, I love goulash. Of course, unless you cooked it you don’t know exactly what’s in it. When an NFL team’s center position, though, turns into something resembling goulash that is most definitely not a good thing.
It was hard to understand why the Giants gave the job to Halapio, who had never played it, instead of the perfectly capable Brett Jones — eventually trading Jones to the Minnesota Vikings. That appeared to be working out just fine, however, until Halapio’s season ended in Week 3 thanks (or no thanks) to a fractured ankle.
John Greco took over, starting three games at center before moving to right guard when the Giants tossed in the towel on Omameh. Spencer Pulley finished out the season, minus one game he missed with a calf injury. Greco and Omameh were adequate replacement players, but neither is a long-term answer at the position. Greco, 33, may be at the end of his career. Pulley, at 308 pounds, occasionally gets bullied inside by bigger, stronger defensive tackles. He had a poor run-blocking score of 49.4, per Pro Football Focus.
The benefit of being the worst — When Gettleman made his “fix the o-line” proclamation, he also noted that you have to “dig around” and that “you have no idea who’s going to be available.”
Well, there is no way the plan could have included being the worst team in the league the first half of the 2018 season, putting themselves in position to have first priority on the waiver wire when the Los Angeles Rams made a starting-caliber guard available. There’s no other way to put it — the Giants lucked into Jamon Brown.
Awarded to the Giants during the bye week, Brown proved a quick study. He started the final eight games and helped solidify the line. He was the final piece that turned the line from abominable to serviceable.
Brown, 25, isn’t perfect. He committed eight penalties in eight games, gave up three sacks and 19 pressures.
One of the odd things about the Giants’ season was how explosive they were on offense while being one of the least efficient teams in the league. That tells us a lot about the talents of Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr., while also revealing the shortcomings of the offensive line on a play-to-play basis.
2019 look ahead
This was Gettleman at his season-ending press conference.
The Giants appear set at left tackle and left guard with Solder and Hernandez, respectively. Let’s accept that Halapio is likely to be the starting center and that the Giants will, unless the cost is prohibitive, bring Brown back to play right guard.
That means the Giants need to address the right tackle spot, where Wheeler was ranked 58th by PFF out of 61 qualifying tackles. It also means they need to upgrade the depth along the interior.
Let’s look at right tackle options.
The belle of the ball at right tackle is Daryl Williams of the Carolina Panthers, a player we have talked about before.
The 27-year-old had a good season for the Panthers in 2017 before missing all but one 2018 game because of a knee injury. Walter Football says “Williams is Carolina’s best offensive lineman, and he’s only 27 (in August), so he’s still due a large contract despite barely playing last year.
Because Gettleman drafted Williams (Round 4, 2015) and because of the Giants’ need, it would qualify as a big surprise if the Giants don’t make a run at Williams should he reach the open market.
Another intriguing player who could hit the market is Ja’Wuan James of the Miami Dolphins. Flowers and Bobby Hart could be looking for work, too — just kidding. Honestly, there don’t appear to be a high number of appealing options, perhaps making a play for Williams even more likely.
The names you will hear are Jonah Williams (Alabama), Greg Little (Ole Miss), David Edwards (Wisconsin), Yadny Cajuste (West Virginia) and Isaiah Prince (Ohio State). I will leave the scouting reports to Chris. To me, how highly the Giants prioritize offensive tackle in the draft depends entirely on whether or not they are able to upgrade the position in free agency.