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Giants’ position review: Offensive line is still a work in progress

Where might the Giants look to upgrade that group?

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Miami Dolphins v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

General manager Dave Gettleman said at his introductory press conference more than two years ago that fixing the New York Giants offensive line was a priority. With a reputation for finding quality offensive linemen, this figured to be a task that was in Gettleman’s wheelhouse.

Well, fixing that line hasn’t been easy. Gettleman has had hits and misses with his decisions there over the past two offseasons, and the unit still is not complete. Let’s take a look at the 2019 offensive line and project where the Giants might go from here.

Starters: Nate Solder (LT), Will Hernandez (LG), Jon Halapio (C), Kevin Zeitler (RG), Mike Remmers (RT)
Reserves: Nick Gates, Spencer Pulley, Eric Smith, Chad Slade
IR: George Asafo-Adjei

The New York Giants offensive line improved marginally from 2018 to 2019. From 29th in run blocking per Football Outsiders to 25th in 2019, and from 47 sacks allowed in 2018 to 41 allowed in 2019. Pro Football Focus has the Giants’ pass-blocking grade rising from 66.2 in 2018 to 71.5 in 2019, while the run-blocking grade (57.8 in 2018, 57.0 in 2019) was a constant. Overall, PFF ranked the Giants No. 17 among offensive lines.

Kevin Zeitler provided the steady play at guard the Giants expected when they traded for him, grading above 70.0 as both a pass blocker and a run blocker this year. The tackle duo of Nate Solder and Mike Remmers hasn’t provided that same steady performance, however. Solder’s 57 pressures allowed this season are seven more than any other player, and the 97 combined pressures allowed for the duo is the most in the NFL.

In reality, that’s not much improvement at all. Certainly not enough improvement to make a difference.

Gettleman knows it.

“That part of it has been frustrating,” Gettleman said at his end-of-season press conference. ‘George Young, may he rest in peace, used to call that the ‘Dance of the Elephants,’ and those five guys have to work together as a unit, and if they don’t, it’s messy. We feel like, unfortunately, Pio (Jon Halapio) got hurt again, he tore his Achilles as you guys know, so now he is not going to be ready until camp most likely, but we feel like we’ve got some good pieces there, and they’ve just got to continue to work together and improve.

“We’re always going to look to add, we’re not afraid to draft over anybody, so we’ll continue to work that.”

So, let’s look at where Gettleman has work to do.

The Giants thought they would be solid up the middle with Hernandez and Zeitler at the guards and Halapio returning at center.

Hernandez, in his second year, allowed only two sacks but seemed to regress as a run blocker. Zeitler was good, but allowed the second-most pressures (22) of his eight-year career. Overall, the Giants were OK at guard and should be fine there going into 2020. A step forward from Hernandez, the 2018 second-round pick who will be entering his third season, will be counted on.

At center, Halapio’s Week 17 Achilles tendon tear that leaves his status for 2020 murky was unfortunate. Even if he were healthy, though, it’s become apparent over the last two seasons that neither he not Spencer Pulley is really the answer for the Giants at the position. Only four centers allowed more pressures than Halapio and his run-blocking grade was 40th among 50 centers graded by PFF.

The Giants, whether it was Dave Gettleman’s idea or Pat Shurmur’s, were stubborn about giving the job to and then sticking with Halapio the last two seasons. That has to change. Maybe Nick Gates gets an opportunity there. Maybe the Giants dip into free agency or turn to the draft. We’ll see. The only thing I know for sure, though, is they can’t just hand the job back to Halapio, a restricted free agent, whenever he is healthy.

The Giants hoped they would be good enough at tackle with veterans Nate Solder and Mike Remmers. They weren’t.

At left tackle, after offseason ankle surgery kept him out of spring practices Nate solder had the worst season of his nine-year career. The 57 pressures and 11 sacks were both the second-most he had ever allowed and his 64.7 PFF grade was the worst of his career.

I’m inclined to cut the 31-year-old some slack, though. I’m not certain he was every fully healthy in 2019. Plus, the reality that his 4-year-old son, Hunter, underwent surgery and a third round of chemotherapy for a Wilms tumor had to weigh on his mind.

Whether he’s at left or right tackle, right now Solder seems likely to be in the Giants’ lineup in 2020. It would cost the Giants a $13 million cap hit to cut him before June 1, and a still-hefty $6.5 million to cut him after June 1.

At right tackle, Mike Remmers is a free agent and I have doubts that the 30-year-old will be retained. The one-year, $2.5 million deal he signed for 2019 seemed like a stop-gap deal until the Giants were able to find something better. They need to do that.

Only nine tackles gave up more pressures than Remmers, and his 55.7 run-blocking grade was 43rd out of 60 qualifying tackles.

As with center, the choices are Gates/free agency/draft.