Pat Shurmur played center at Michigan State. He knows what good center play looks like, and the position’s importance to an offense.
Thus, the way the Giants handled the center position in 2018 was a tad curious. They never gave Brett Jones, the player who entered last spring figuring to be the starter, a chance. They eventually traded him to the Minnesota Vikings.
Instead, the Giants virtually handed the job to a journeyman backup who spent years fighting just to get into the league and had never actually played center in a game prior to last season. Jon Halapio actually appeared to be doing a nice job in his surprising new spot before a fractured ankle in Week 2 cost him his season.
Veteran John Greco and waiver claim Spencer Pulley held down the fort at center the rest of the way.
Will the Giants perhaps run it back at center in 2018, giving the job once again to Halapio should he recover adequately? Will they perhaps draft competition for Halapio in the middle rounds? Or, would they turn to the free agent market in the hopes of upgrading the position with a proven player?
If they go the free agent route, perhaps Mitch Morse of the Kansas City Chiefs is a name to watch.
Age: 27 in April
Experiece: 4 seasons
Height: 6-foot-6 | Weight: 305
Pro Football Focus: Overall grade (69.5) | Pass blocking 82.7) | Run blocking (61.3) | 5 presses, 0 sacks, in 534 pass blocking snaps | Pass blocking efficiency (99.5, 2nd in NFL among centers)
In listing Morse No. 3 among the top interior offensive linemen available in free agency, PFF wrote:
“ ... has shown the ability to succeed in the NFL, particularly in pass protection. This past season, Morse allowed just five pressures in 534 pass-blocking snaps, and not one of those pressures was a sack. In fact, he has not allowed a sack since his rookie season in 2015.
PFF also named Morse the 40th-best available free agent, but gave him only faint praise, saying his work “has never been anything special as a pass blocker, but his work in pass protection would be an upgrade for many teams.”
Morse was a second-round pick by the Chiefs in 2015. He has been a starter his entire career in Kansas City. By most accounts, though, the Chiefs appear ready to let Morse seek a pay day elsewhere. That’s because over the past two seasons, injuries have cost Morse 14 games and in 2018 Austin Reiter filled in well enough that Kansas City thinks he can do the job at a lower cost.
PFF has not attributed a sack to Morse over the past three seasons, covering 1,460 pass-blocking snaps. Morse gave up three sacks as a rookie in 2015.
Basically, Morse is a 27-uear-old starting-caliber player on a team that has gone to the playoffs each of his four seasons (winning no less than 10 games). It looks pretty certain that he will reach the market.
If you are the Giants, don’t you have to kick the tires and see if the price tag is something you can work with?
The Kansas City perspective
I asked Pete Sweeney of SB Nation’s Arrowhead Pride for his thoughts. Pete came through with more than I could have hoped for. Here it is:
The Kansas City Chiefs selected Mitch Morse with the 49th overall pick in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Morse did not have to travel far, as he played college football at the University of Missouri.
Morse was selected by then-Chiefs and now Cleveland Browns general manager John Dorsey, who is praised for his sharp eye for talent and led the charge in turning around both franchises.
“He started at left tackle, he’s played right tackle, he’s played center and he’s played guard, I would think that you try him at center as a backup there or see if he can play guard,” Dorsey said at the time. “He can probably get you out of the game as a tackle, but his versatility, his athleticism, his smarts, his toughness are really good qualities to have.”
The Chiefs love versatile linemen, and though Morse does provide that flexibility, he has only been a center in Kansas City. Morse won the job as a rookie and has never looked back.
Pro Football Focus reports that Morse allowed just five pressures in 534 pass-blocking snaps in 2018, and he has not allowed a sack since his rookie season in 2015.
The only ability that has eluded Morse, if any, has been availability. Morse has a little bit of a history in suffering concussions—he missed the 2015 playoffs (two games) with a concussion then missed five games in 2018 with the same issue. Morse also has a surgically-repaired left foot.
The foot injury cost Morse nine games in 2017.
The positive is that when Morse can stay healthy—he has the complete trust of his quarterbacks. Morse and Alex Smith had a great relationship, and Patrick Mahomes was excited to get his center back from concussion protocol this year in early December.
“It was awesome,” Mahomes said. “He’s a smart guy and we’ve built a great relationship, we’re always on the same page. To have him back out there, I feel like he gels well with those guys that he’s been with for the last couple years here. It’s great to get another leader on that offensive line.”
In my own experiences with Morse, he might be the best player to talk to off the field. He is down to earth, friendly and deeply cares about his teammates. He provided this gem after the Chiefs’ divisional-round win this year. Morse’s brother, Robbie, has special needs, and he provides Morse’s biggest motivation.