As we continue our position-by-position look at the New York Giants it is time — sadly — to discuss the offensive line. So, let’s get it over with.
2021 in review
Starters: Andrew Thomas (LT), Matt Skura (LG), Billy Price (C), Will Hernandez (RG), Nate Solder (RT)
Reserves: Matt Peart (ended season on IR), Ben Bredeson, Wes Martin, Korey Cunningham
IR: Shane Lemieux, Nick Gates, Kyle Murphy
Practice squad: Devery Hamilton, Derrick Kelly, Jonathan Harrison (ended season on IR), Isaiah Wilson (cut before final game of the season)
In January of 2021, then-GM Dave Gettleman said this:
“I think this offensive line can compete. You can cherry pick here, cherry pick there, in terms of which game you want to pick and how the offense did. The offensive line showed very good progress. They’re big, they’re young, they’re strong and they’re tough and smart. This O-Line has a chance to be pretty damn good.”
Yours truly has to admit that at the time I agreed with him.
After the draft, Gettleman told media that “It’s really apparent that we have a little more confidence in our offensive linemen than you guys do.”
Turns out that the naysayers were right. The failure of Gettleman’s offensive line plan was a huge part of the reason why the Giants went 4-13, and why the 70-year-old no longer has a job.
In truth, it has to be said that Gettleman’s Andrew Thomas-Shane Lemieux-Nick Gates-Will Hernandez-Nate Solder plan never got off the ground.
Peart showed up at training camp with a back injury, and never convinced the coaching staff he was a more trustworthy option than the on-his-last-NFL-legs Nate Solder.
Lemieux partially tore his left patellar tendon early in training camp, played 17 regular-season snaps, then shut it down for the year. Gates was lost for the year with a leg fracture early in Week 2.
To make matters worse, the Giants did not draft any offensive linemen as potential replacements. They signed only journeymen Zack Fulton and Joe Looney, and both retired early in camp, leaving the Giants scrambling.
Price and Ben Bredeson were added in trades. Wes Martin was signed off Washington’s practice squad. Matt Skura was signed off the street. Bredeson suffered hand and ankle injuries and barely played. Andrew Thomas missed four games and was limited in others.
The result? The Giants spent most of the season with a majority of their offensive linemen being players who should have been — at best — seldom-used backups playing the majority of the snaps.
Everything suffered. Although there were reasons beyond offensive line play for the dismissals, Jason Garrett lost his job at midseason, and Gettleman and Joe Judge followed him out the door when the season was over.
The Giants couldn’t run the ball, finishing 31st in the league in run blocking, per Football Outsiders. They couldn’t pass block, and as the season wore on increasingly protected the offensive line by not even trying to throw downfield or make a real effort to involve their wide receivers.
The Giants finished 31st in the league in points per game, a puny 15.2, for the second straight year.
The Giants entered with a risky offensive line plan to begin with. In retrospect, the real failing was no supplementing that planned starting group with adequate depth from the outset. They paid dearly for that mistake.
Solder, Price, Skura, Cunningham and Hernandez are all scheduled to be unrestricted free agents. It would seem unlikely that any will be back with the Giants next season.
Lemieux should return and, as a player with two years remaining on his rookie deal, is likely to be given a chance to compete. Whether he ends up as a starter or a backup remains to be seen, but right now I would guess odds are he is part of the 53-man roster.
Bredeson is another player who will be entering Year 3 of his rookie deal. He was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, a team noted for an ability to find quality trench players. Injuries prevented him from showing what he could do in 2021. He probably gets a chance to compete.
As we detailed a couple of weeks ago, by his own admission Gates is not a player who can be counted on for 2022.
Left tackle Andrew Thomas, the No. 4 overall pick in 2020, had an excellent sophomore season and is the only building block on the offensive line who should absolutely be counted on going forward.
New general manager Joe Schoen has a ton of work to do in this area. Most of it figures to come in the draft.