New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman began his time as GM by saying fixing the offensive line was a top priority. Gettleman made incremental strides in doing so in each of his first two offseasons, but didn’t get that group to where it could truly be considered an asset.
Gettleman made an aggressive effort this offseason to fix that position group “once and for all,” drafting three players in the first five rounds and signing veteran swing tackle Cameron Fleming.
Is the offensive line “fixed”? The opt-out by Nate Solder certainly changes the equation. The Giants also have note clarified the center position after the Week 17 Achilles injury suffered by Jon Halapio last season.
Yet, there is reason for optimism. At least for the long-term performance of the line if not for immediate evidence of improvement in 2020.
Key losses: Nate Solder (opt out), Jon Halapio, Mike Remmers
Key additions: Andrew Thomas, Cameron Fleming, Matt Peart, Shane Lemieux
Why the Giants could be better
Even with Solder opting out, it’s hard to imagine the Giants could be worse at pass blocking from the tackle position than they were a season ago. Solder allowed a league-high 56 pressures in 684 pass-blocking snaps, while Mike Remmers tied for 10th-most allowed with 40 in 581 pass-blocking snaps. Throw in five allowed by Eric Smith in just 43 pass-blocking snaps and it’s an ugly picture.
The original tackle plan seemed to be Solder at left tackle and fourth overall pick Andrew Thomas at right tackle. Now, Thomas seems destined to play the left side with either Nick Gates, newly-signed to a two-year contract extension, or veteran swing tackle Cameron Fleming at right tackle.
The Giants appear solid at guard. Veteran Kevin Zeitler has been one of the league’s best right guards for years. Left guard Will Hernandez comes off a disappointing second NFL season, but the general belief is that Hernandez remains a young player with upside who should get better and have a long, solid career.
The question is at center. Of course, even with Halapio the Giants didn’t really get quality center play. Of 20 centers who played at least 80 percent of their team’s offensive snaps, Halapio’s 56.3 Pro Football Focus grade was the league’s worst. His pass-blocking grade was 18th, as was his run-blocking grade.
Could the Giants really give the job to Spencer Pulley, Halapio’s backup? Could they give it to Gates or Shane Lemieux, who have never played there? Could they give it to someone who isn’t on the roster yet?
No matter what they do, the bar isn’t high to improve play at the position.
The other reason for optimism is that for the first time in several seasons the Giants appear to have some actual depth along the line. Fleming has been a competent swing tackle for several seasons. The selection of Lemieux, a guard at Oregon, in Round 5 drew praise. Third-round pick Matt Peart is thought to be a future starting right tackle.
Why the Giants could be worse
Thomas might be fine at left tackle as a rookie, but protecting Daniel Jones’ blind side is a difficult task for the young man. Most analysts I have talked to, including former Giant Shaun O’Hara and ex-offensive line coach Paul Alexander, believe Thomas would be better off beginning his career on the right where the Giants’ best offensive lineman, Kevin Zeitler, can help him. Instead, he could end up being asked to sink or swim on the left. We know what happened the last time the Giants asked a highly-drafted offensive tackle to do that.
Gates has a fancy new two-year, $10.325 million contract and faith from the Giants’ organization. He also has all of three career NFL starts. He might be able to play center, but there is zero evidence. He might be able to be a starting NFL right tackle, but there is only a tiny sample size.
Fleming has been a quality swing tackle. In six seasons, though, the most games he has started in a season is seven. Asking him to be a full-time starter is probably not the best idea.
Most analysts believe Peart won’t be ready as a rookie, so if we see him on the field that might turn out badly.
The center position? Well, we’ve discussed that already.
I am a big fan of what the Giants did to bolster the offensive line in the offseason. I’ve been calling for the signing of a veteran swing tackle for several seasons. Using three draft picks in the first five rounds, including the fourth overall pick, was also a major play that could provide long-term dividends.
I just have questions about the 2020 season and the short term.
The Giants are going to have at least three new starters on the line. They will have two rookies if Lemieux or Peart end up starting, possibly three if they both end up in the lineup at some point. If Thomas and Gates are the tackles, that’s a duo I feel good about for the long haul. Again, though, they are unproven.
The center spot? Can the Giants get something approaching even adequate play there this season?
All of this, mind you, in a year where there have been no spring practices and on-field training camp is really going to amount to a couple of weeks of padded work with no preseason games.
It won’t be an easy task for the Giants to bring together a functional offensive line — even if the talent base they are working with is better than what they have had the past couple of seasons.