The New York Giants know that last year, their offensive line's performance wasn’t good enough.
While they’re not ones to use excuses for shortcomings, there were several built-in excuses for the group's already handy for the group.
The first and most glaring was the massive infusion of youth on the unit, as three rookies (Andrew Thomas, Matt Peart, and Shane Lemieux) all played significant snaps on the unit, as did a first-time center (Nick Gates).
The unit also played together for the first time in a brand new offensive system and, if that wasn't enough to set their hair on fire, they had two different position coaches, each with different philosophies.
The result wasn’t pretty. The Giants offensive line finished ranked 31st in the NFL last year per PFF, just ahead of the Los Angeles Charger.
And an argument could likely be made that the unit’s inconsistent play had a trickle-down effect on quarterback Daniel Jones's development. Jones finished tied for fourth (with Bengals QB Joe Burrow) in highest pressures-turned-to-sacks percentage (21.2 percent).
But rather than add to the offensive line, Giants general manager Dave Gettleman—who did admit that the team had their eye on some prospects during the draft who came off the board by the time New York went back on the clock—is willing to roll with what the team has.
“I turn around, and I say to myself, ‘OK, we rushed for  yards against the Seattle Seahawks, and we did a lot of really good things as the season progressed with the O-line,'" Gettleman said during an interview with WFAN this week.
“Yet the perception persists that this group of guys is not good enough. Obviously, I have a different opinion. And we, the Giants, have a different opinion. We have a number of young, talented players. It’s learning how to play the NFL game, understanding that every week you’re gonna play a guy who’s gonna try to rip your lungs out. So it’s a matter of putting on the big-boy pants, so to speak.”
There are several reasons why Gettleman and the Giants are comfortable enough to have the unit "put the big-boy pants" on, the first being coaching.
Head coach Joe Judge tweaked his assistant coaching staff earlier this off-season, adding Rob Sale as the new offensive line coach to work with assistant Ben Wilkerson.
Judge also hired Pat Flaherty as a senior consultant. Flaherty, of course, was Tom Coughlin’s offensive line coach and run game coordinator who helped groom the team’s stellar offensive line unit from 2007-10.
The Giants are also hopeful that the unit, which like the rest of the team, is entering Year 2 under the current scheme, can play faster and more cohesively.
Still, the question of whether the Giants made a mistake in not pouring more assets into the line will continue to linger, especially if Jones becomes a human pinball back there or the running game struggles.
The fact is that after Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell, believed to be the only offensive lineman that had a first-round grade in this class that many teams had a first-round grade on, went off the board with the seventh overall pick to the Lions, the picture became murkier in terms of matching value with where they picked.
There was some speculation that they might consider Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater, but it was never made clear if the Giants view Slater as a tackle, guard, or both.
And, as previously mentioned, Gettleman admitted there were a couple of guys they were looking at that were gone by the time they went on the clock, leaving the Giants to conclude that who was left probably wouldn't represent that much of an upgrade over what they already had.
The Giants did sign two undrafted free-agent offensive linemen, center Brett Heggie from Florida and OL Jake Burton, who played his college ball at UCLA and Baylor.
There is always the post-training camp cuts to choose from as by then the Giants, who currently have $2,081,216 in functional cap space (under the Top 51 rule) and $5,040,201 in total space. (That second figure will change once they trim their roster.)
But obviously, the Giants will want to have answers sooner than later so that whatever configuration they go with has time to jell.
So right or wrong, for better or for worse, the Giants, for now, are rolling with what they have even if they aren't quite sure what the lineup will look like.
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What is the starting offensive line configuration going to look like?
The Giants are committed to what they have on the offensive line, yet other than maybe a rough idea of what they think the starting configuration will look like, no one knows.
What can probably be safely assumed is that Thomas will start at left tackle and Gates at center. Will Hernandez and Shane Lemieux, both career-left guards, will compete to see who ends up staying at left guard and if one moves to the right guard.
And if the runner up to the left guard competition isn't up for the right guard assignment, that will likely fall to veteran Zach Fulton, whom the Giants signed to a one-year free-agent deal.
At right tackle, the Giants are hoping that Peart can convincingly win the job, but if he falls short, the backup plan appears to be Nate Solder, who not only hasn't played right tackle since his rookie season but who was out of football last year.
Might the Giants bring back Cameron Fleming, last year's starter, as insurance? As of this writing, Fleming remains a free agent, so that possibility can't be ruled out.
The good news is that the Giants will have three preseason games to get this all sorted out, and hopefully, they'll be able to find answers sooner than later so that whatever combination they do end up going with has enough time to jell.
What about the depth?
Gettleman was asked how much the players' contract situations on a unit factors into the sense of urgency to draft at a certain position.
He said the following:
You’re always looking at that kind of stuff. So, just for an example, if you know you’ve got a guy that’s contract is up and because of the financial aspect you decide you’re not going to do it, then sure, you may draft a player to fill the need that you know you’re going to have.
You have to look at what you’ve got, eventually who’s going to go out the door, and how do you replenish. And you want to always take value, and I think really and truly that just because you take a guy, there’s no law against maybe flipping him or flipping the guy you already have on your roster, so it’s an asset. You don’t want to pass up good assets.
One of the biggest mistakes the Giants made with their offensive line building efforts after winning their second Super Bowl of the Eli Manning-Tom Coughlin era is they waited nearly two years to finally start pouring premium assets into the offensive line, despite seeing the deterioration of the skills among their starters at the time.
The point is that ideally, a team should have assets in the developmental stage that might potentially become starters at a later date.
The Giants? Four of their offensive linemen--interior Jonotthan Harrison, guard Will Hernandez, guard Zach Fulton, and offensive tackle Nate Solder--are signed only through 2021. And it's probably a safe bet to assume that not all four will be back next year, raising the question of where might there be depth to sep in for the starters if an injury should happen.
The short answer is the Giants could always pick up veteran depth once training camp cuts are made, and their salary cap situation stabilizes. Players added to the roster from Week 2 on don't have their 2021 salaries guaranteed for the entire season, whereas those added before opening day do.
But a more likely solution comes down to the coaching and the pressure they're under to develop some of the younger, more raw talent such as Heggie and Burton, as well as holdovers like Jackson Barton, Kenny Wiggins, and others.