Some of you may think this is a joke question, or a serious question whose answer is, "Every one should be gone except Andrew Thomas." But that probably can't be the case. A team needs at least 8 OLs on its 53-man roster. Some teams have 9, or sometimes even 10, although if the expanded practice squad numbers and rules are retained for 2022, then 8 or 9 is surely enough.
The Giants have 9 draft picks. Giants superfan License Plate Guy has actually suggested that we use all 9 on OLs (tongue-in-cheek, I think, but I'm not absolutely sure). But we do have other needs, including EDGE, ILB, DT, and TE. And we have no cap space to sign free agents of any quality. A new GM might free up cap space by some ruthless cuts from the current roster. But then those must be filled by new players at those other positions who can only come by using up the resulting cap space or by using draft picks.
All of which goes to say that we can't cut every OL except Andrew Thomas. Which means that some OLs who are currently under contract to the Giants or will still be in 2022 will have to return. Not necessarily in starting roles, but at least as backups. Where will we find the 7-8 OLs to accomplish this? Here are my thoughts:
The draft: I published a few possible draft scenarios earlier this week in which we draft 4 OLs. With 8 picks in the first 5 rounds, we could actually do this and still have 4 picks left over for EDGE, ILB, DT, and TE. We could even use our 6th round pick to draft a 5th OL, although the odds of one drafted that late succeeding are small unless there is a special circumstance like Trey Smith's "medicals" that caused everyone to avoid him until KC wisely took him in round 6.
However another strategy would be a trade-down or two to acquire more picks. Most fans think of a trade-down as a way to acquire an extra round 1 pick in 2023 to help us get a QB if needed. But trade-downs could also be used to allow us to go whole hog, so to speak, on the OL in the draft. This might be necessary considering that you can't expect to hit on all your draft picks.
Beyond this, though, some guys have to come from the current OL group. Which ones should return?
Matt Peart: Whatever you think of his chances to succeed, he'll be coming off a late-season ACL tear. He will not be ready by the start of the 2022 season, maybe not at all in 2022. So, no.
Will Hernandez, Matt Skura, Nate Solder, Wes Martin, Korey Cunningham: These players are not at this point NFL-caliber OLs. They all need to be gone.
Nick Gates: I love Nick, I think he is at least a capable C with the chance to become good, and I think he's a spiritual leader on the line. But he's coming off a horrific injury and multiple surgeries. Maybe he'll play next year and be as good as he was before his injury. But there's no way to know now. So we can't count on him to be there. Dave Gettleman's biggest mistake was not ignoring the OL rebuild. It was assuming he had accomplished it after the 2020 draft and not adequately planning for contingencies.
Shane Lemieux: He had patellar tendon surgery, which supposedly takes 6 months to a year to recover from. I've heard nothing about him since the surgery, and I have no idea whether he is expected to be back in time for the 2022 season and whether his play will suffer as a result of it. When he was healthy, he was a pretty decent run blocker and I loved his tough guy attitude, but he was a complete liability in pass protection. Can't count on him to be back in time.
That's 8 OLs, and zero of them that we should assume will be (or want to be) playing for the Giants at the start of the 2022 season. OK, so how do we give Andrew Thomas some company?
Billy Price: He's far from being a great C, and sometimes he looks lost trying to find someone to block. I also wonder whether he knows how to call protections at the line before the snap. But much of the time he's adequate. I'd rather he not be our starting C next year, but I can see him re-signing with the Giants at the same $2.1M contract he's making this year.
Ben Bredeson: Unfortunately he's been injured part of the year so we haven't gotten to see all that much of him. People who watch film and know more than I do say he's done some good things in run blocking at least. He scored well last week against the Bears in limited play according to PFF. I would bring him back as depth at G.
So that leaves say 5 slots on the OL we need to fill, if one of Gates or Lemieux is ready to play in the fall. Maybe there is a cheap but not terrible OL free agent out there we can sign for $1-2M as depth. But mostly that leaves the draft. Given the difficulty of finding NFL starting-caliber OTs, I feel that we absolutely have to use one of our round 1 picks on an OT who has a high probability of succeeding. There are 3 can't miss (sort of) OTs in this draft: Evan Neal, Ikem Ekwonu, and Charles Cross. One of them should be there at #5.
Which one, I have no idea. In part it depends on who our RBs are next year. If Saquon is our RB1 in 2022, we should not be a primarily power/gap rushing offense. That does not play to his strengths. We should be an outside zone team, much like what Sean McVay runs with the Rams. I believe that is what Cross does well. So he might be the guy, especially if we use #5 on a different position. But if we have a different RB1 next year, one who would thrive in an inside zone or power/gap scheme, then maybe we want to look at Neal or Ekwonu, who might not thrive in outside zone. If we really think it doesn't matter and any of the three would be fine, then we should absolutely trade down to lower in the first round, get an extra pick or two, and use pick #8 to take one of the marquee OLs. Then find a G and a C with one of the remaining round 1-3 picks, draft another maybe in round 5, and possibly yet another in round 6.
It's not going to be easy. Don't expect a top 10 OL in 2022. But let's at least hope for an OL that is not an embarrassment.