Jim Mancari, ContributorEvery offseason, teams attempt to address their areas of weakness from the previous season. Sounds pretty simple right?
Well, for the 2014 New York Football Giants, there are so many weaknesses that the team may have to pick and choose which areas to address.
Recently-retired offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride commented on the shuffling of the offensive line this season and how it negatively affected what Eli Manning was able to do.
Every team has injuries, but it’s true that the Giants’ o-line really was plagued this year – leading to an overall poor offensive performance.
Along the o-line, the Giants arguably need four new starters, with last season’s rookie Justin Pugh being the only definite holdover. Pugh still has work to do, but his first season proved that he can play in this league.
Let’s be honest: Replacing four starters along the line is not going to happen. So the team must be wise about how it fills those holes.
First, we have to look at who is likely gone. David Baas still has two years left on his contract and Chris Snee has one, but it wouldn’t surprise me if both these players were released, or in Snee’s case even retired.
Snee was a great Giant for a good chunk of years, but unfortunately injuries have caught up to him. As for Baas, that signing isn’t looking too good.
David Diehl and Kevin Boothe are free agents. Diehl was decent after his return from a thumb injury, but he’s also getting up there in age. Boothe was average at best, but he does bring some versatility to the table being able to play both guard and center. So therefore, I could see the Giants re-signing him, unless he’s offered a long-term deal elsewhere.
Will Beatty’s contract is terrible given his brutal on-field performance, but the problem is that there are still four years left on this deal at a high cost annually. Ideally, he could be a reserve lineman, but he then would be the most expensive back-up lineman in the league.
James Brewer and Jim Cordle saw extended action this season, and they’d be great to have back…in a back-up role. Having those guys start really thinned out the unit’s depth.
So assuming Pugh and Beatty will definitely be back, here are some other options for the Giants’ o-line.
Let’s start with some free agents. There are a few big names available that could help immediately: tackles Brandon Albert, Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher; guards Wade Smith, Brian Waters and Matt Slauson; and centers Alex Mack, Brian de la Puente, Evan Dietrich-Smith and Roberto Garza.
The tackles likely come with a hefty price tag, but maybe one of the guards or centers could be an option.
I like the idea of having a strong center, and Mack could be that guy. He’s a two time Pro Bowler who has started all 80 games of his NFL career. Plus he’s only 28 years old, while the veteran Garza is 34. The unit needs stability and consistency, and Mack has been the mark of both in his five-year career.
But where would the Giants get the money to sign a player like Mack if the cap hits to Baas and Snee would total nearly $20 million?
So it might come down to the Giants drafting a lineman in the first round with the No. 12 pick. The Giants have historically always taken the best available player, but maybe this is the year to draft based on need.
Offensive tackle Jake Matthews from Texas A&M will likely be off the board at pick No. 12, but other tackles available in the draft could be Greg Robinson (Auburn), Cyrus Kouandijo (Alabama) and Cameron Erving (Florida State).
Available guards that could go in the first round are Zach Martin (Notre Dame) and Cyril Richardson (Baylor). Travis Swanson from Arkansas is the top-rated college center.
I don’t know too much yet about these guys, but I do know the Pugh has the ability to be flexible. So if the Giants have the ability to take a tackle like Robinson or Erving, that could be an option based on Pugh’s flexibility.
So let’s recap: The Giants need at least two new starters along the o-line – hopefully one added via free agency and one added via the draft.
Here are a few potential combinations:
LT Will Beatty, LG Kevin Boothe, C Alex Mack, RG Zach Martin/Cyril Richardson, RT Justin Pugh
But there’s also talk about switching Pugh and Beatty. And again Pugh could shift to a guard spot, so what about:
LT Will Beatty, LG Justin Pugh, C Kevin Boothe, RG Wade Smith/Brian Waters, RT Greg Robinson/Cameron Erving.
Basically it’s going to come down to adding one free agent and one draft pick and then filling in the rest with what the team has.
It’s tough to believe that Eli Manning’s talent could diminish so quickly in just one season, so a strong – or even average – offensive line could help his return to form next year.
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