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Justin Pugh: Part of the problem, or part of the solution for Giants?

If veteran wants to keep playing, Giants have an interesting decision to make

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants
Justin Pugh
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Justin Pugh came ‘straight off the couch’ to try and help the New York Giants’ flailing offensive line in the middle of the 2023 NFL season.

Pugh did that in a lot of intangible ways. He showed a team-first mentality, willingly moving to left tackle when needed despite not having played there since 2015, and not having played tackle at all since 2017. He was lauded for his leadership and ability to bring the offensive linemen closer together as the line play improved in the back half of the season.

In tangible ways, meaning his actual play on the field, how much did Pugh help the Giants? The 33-year-old Pugh, truthfully, did not play well.

The three games at left tackle can be discounted because he did not belong there. In nine games at left guard, though, Pugh earned a Pro Football Focus grade above 60.0 just once. He graded below 50.0 five times, two of those being below 40.0. He finished the season with 1 41.6 overall grade, just 37.8 as a pass blocker.

Is Pugh part of the solution as the Giants look to finally put together a functional offensive line in 2024?

Reasons to keep Pugh

Pugh’s leadership was undeniable, and important, to the Giants as the season wore on. Teammates quickly gained respect for the Giants’ 2013 first-round pick. That leadership would help in 2024, as well.

What the Giants have to judge is the reasons for Pugh’s on-field performance, and what role he might be able to play.

Pugh suffered a major knee injury in 2022 and did not have the benefit of an offseason or a training camp. Could that, and the fact that in rehabbing his knee he dropped weight and played around 290 pounds, have contributed to his struggles?

If the Giants think a full offseason of normal training and practice will help Pugh return to his previous level of play, bringing him back makes sense. Whether that is as a starter or a key reserve.

Reasons to let him go

Pugh turns 34 in August. As detailed above, he did not play well in 2023. He is probably a stop-gap starter or reserve at this point in his career. If the Giants want to get younger, or don’t have faith that what Pugh put on film in 2023 will get better, moving on makes sense.

The other factor? If the Giants determine that they want to move Evan Neal inside to guard, perhaps Pugh would not be in their plans.

The verdict

I don’t think Pugh wants to play football that much longer. I think he might be amenable to a one-year contract at a reasonable number. If so, I have no issue with the Giants bringing him back.

I would not guarantee him a starting job. If he competes for and wins one, great. If he ends up as a backup at both guard spots and an emergency tackle, fine. The Giants could do a lot worse.