Giants Roster Rebuilding Season: Offensive Line
There’s probably no bigger enigma on the offensive side of the ball than the Giants offensive line.
Despite undergoing a revamp on the right side that included guard Kevin Zeitler and tackle Mike Remmers, the Giants offensive line allowed 191 pressures, per Pro Football Focus. That number was higher than the 159 total pressures the offensive line, configured differently in 2018, allowed a year ago.
While this isn’t to make excuses for the offensive line, there were many reasons why the 2019 group struggled.
For starters, the inexperience at the quarterback-center combination didn’t help in trying to set protections and line calls against the more sophisticated NFL defenses.
Then there were the issues with left tackle Nate Solder, who never complained but who, it was clear, was hurting physically and likely mentally given the health issues of his young son.
Solder’s struggles combined with Halapio’s probably affected second-year guard Will Hernandez, though he’s likely to deny that his struggles are strictly on him.
Add in some questions about the overall schemes and if they best suited the talent, and that Jones averaged 2.70 seconds from drop back to attempted pass (eighth highest among quarterbacks who played in 50% or more of their offense’s snaps last season), and the result is a perfect storm.
Now all of this is not to suggest that the Giants offensive line doesn't need new faces. Solder is clearly on the back nine of his career while it’s unlikely Remmers is brought back after fulfilling a one-year contract.
With Halapio dealing with a torn Achilles suffered in the 2019 regular-season finale, the Giants need to address the center position as well.
All of that brings us to Year 3 of the “Giants Offensive Line Rebuild.” There are a few ways general manager Dave Gettleman and new head coach Joe judge can approach this project, but before getting into the specifics, one thing is crystal clear.
The Giants need to draft an offensive tackle early.
Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t make financial sense to cut Solder because there is no post-June 1 option to lessen the dead money hit.
The way that makes the most sense from my perspective is to move Solder to right tackle and use a draft pick on a franchise left tackle. This would eliminate the need to sign a veteran right tackle like Jack Conklin, who, per Spotrac, has a market value averaging $15 million per year (based on a six-year, $90.163 million contract). This would also allow the Giants to instead devote their financial resources to potentially re-signing Leonard Williams and Markus Golden to new contracts.
If we’re talking a franchise left tackle, there’s a lot to like about Georgia’s Andrew Thomas. From his size (6-foot-5, 320 pounds) to his street brawler approach in the trenches, the junior has an intriguing set of tools that, if he can clean up some of his pass sets, he could become a pillar on the line.
At center, there is optimism that Halapio will be ready for the start of training camp, but unfortunately, the team can't put all their eggs in that basket.
The other decision the coaching staff must make is whether they feel Nick Gates deserves a place it the starting offensive line and if so, where.
Gates performed well at both right tackle and right guard, but playing inside seems to be a better fit for what he brings to the table, which is a physical, mauling style of game that seems such a good match. Gates doesn’t necessarily have the light feet that you’d expect from a tackle, though he does get by with substantial effort.
What also makes Gates so intriguing as a guard is that he has sufficient upper body strength to hold up to power and sustain contact and that he knows angles and plays with instinct.
The thought of Gates at center would be intriguing if not for his 6-foot-6 height, which would almost certainly create some pad level issues at that position.
The most intriguing potential move remains to insert Gates at right guard and moving the very cerebral Kevin Zeitler, who at 6-foot-4 330 pound has the bulk necessary to hold his anchor, to the position.
The Giants have George Asafo-Adjei from last year’s draft, but unfortunately, Asafo-Adjei missed his entire rookie season after suffering a concussion in training camp. There’s no reason to believe that Asafo-Adjei won’t get an opportunity to compete for a roster spot this year, but that doesn’t mean that the Giants shouldn’t add some prospects to the mix.
A potential late Day 3 pick who might even land up as a priority undrafted free agent is North Carolina’s Charlie Heck (6-foot-8, 309 pounds). Heck, whose dad Andy was once the offensive line coach for the Chiefs, has the size but would need to work on improving his strength and his balance when trying to establish an anchor.
Another potential candidate is Charlotte G/T Cameron Clark, 6-foot-5, 300 pounds. Clark, who started at left tackle last year for Charlotte, would have to add some bulk to his frame to improve his anchor. Still, he has some intriguing athleticism and quickness and could potentially develop into a depth player at guard and tackle at the next level.