Dave Gettleman and this front office have received a fair share of warranted criticism, but we can all agree that their commitment to improving the offensive line has been welcoming.
Since the Dave Gettleman era began two years ago, there has been a lot of ugly. Blowout losses, heartbreaking losses, quarterback controversy, and a complete roster rebuild that saw the team move on from stars Landon Collins and Odell Beckham Jr.
Among all this chaos and turmoil, the offensive line was also on the forefront when it came to a team need that had to be addressed. Gettleman and company inherited a mess of an offensive line, highlighted by first round bust Ereck Flowers, and routinely-injured players in Weston Richburg and Justin Pugh. Add in John Jerry and Bobby Hart, and it was a less than ideal situation.
Two years later, and the New York Giants are heading into the season with a completely new-look offensive line, and Gettleman and company deserve some credit for that.
The journey to the current state of the offensive line didn’t happen over night – and it certainly wasn’t all pretty and smooth sailing.
The first move at patching up the front-five came with the signing of former New England Patriots left tackle Nate Solder to a 4-year, $62 million contract in March of 2018. After the signing, Flowers was moved to right tackle, where he was given one last shot to prove himself as anything close to a contributing player along the offensive line.
The other two additions included a young, scrappy hog molly in UTEP’s Will Hernandez via the second round of the NFL Draft and free agent guard Patrick Omameh, both of which were supposed to sure up the interior.
So, in just one off-season Gettleman at least made attempts to work with what he had and add new faces and talent up front.
Unfortunately, that new-look unit was awful for the first half of the season. Quarterback Eli Manning was sacked 31 times, the offense was averaging 78 rushing yards a game, and the G-Men limped into the bye week at 1-7.
Flowers’ right tackle redemption was short-lived, being replaced by Chad Wheeler after two weeks before eventually being waived. Omameh wasn’t any better and was waived during the bye week as well.
Solder was not playing to the standard of the highest paid tackle in the NFL and Hernandez showed promise, but still looked every bit like a rookie guard adjusting to the speed and complexities of the professional level.
Add to that the fact that center Jon Halapio, who looked like the best offensive lineman during the first two weeks, broke his leg in week two, and you have a full-blown mess that left few with any confidence that the position group had improved.
Though the Giants were stuck with Wheeler at right tackle, Gettleman and the staff acknowledged the Omameh miss and replaced him with guard Jamon Brown who they claimed off waivers.
Brown was no All-Pro, but his improved ability in pass protection and overall play from Omameh seemed to kick-start the rest of the group. During the second half of the season, Solder and Hernandez settled into their roles and played much better and Brown proved to be a serviceable replacement that covered for many of Wheeler’s shortcomings.
Overall, the group improved and that, not surprisingly, improved the play of the offense. Manning was only sacked 16 times over the final eight games and the offense averaged over 100 yards on the ground on their way to a 4-4 record.
Heading into this off-season, the offensive line was certainly not ‘fixed.’ Despite Solder, Hernandez, and a healthy Halapio locking up the left tackle, guard, and center positions, questions remained about right guard and tackle.
Brown left for Atlanta and a well-deserved pay raise while Wheeler was never the short or long-term answer at right tackle – finishing 2018 as the 68th graded tackle out of 70 eligible players per Pro Football Focus.
The first move the front office made to address the o-line was trading Olivier Vernon for Cleveland Browns’ guard Kevin Zeitler. The 29-year-old has not missed a game since 2014 and started 103 of the 104 games he played with the Bengals and Browns. He is one of Pro Football Focus’ highest graded guards in the NFL, including one of the best run blocking guards the league has to offer.
The combo of second-year Hernandez and Zeitler brings a new level of grit, toughness, and excitement to the interior of the offensive line that hasn’t been seen in years. The only people more excited about this duo outside of New York Giants fans are Eli Manning and Saquon Barkley.
Right tackle was still a need, and it was expected to be addressed during the 2019 NFL Draft – which it kind of was? In a draft class that was deep in offensive tackle talent, Gettleman stayed on the defensive side of the ball for most of his early and mid-round picks, eventually taking Kentucky tackle George Asafo-Adjei in the seventh round.
Seventh round draft picks aren’t generally expected to come in and start day one, but somebody is better than nobody – and Wheeler.
To round out the right tackle position, the front office signed Mike Remmers, a veteran with 64 NFL starts under his belt. Remmers was ranked as the 16th best right tackle in the NFL between 2015 and 2017 and was signed after fully recovering from minor back surgery.
In the end, what does this all mean? Well, nothing until results are seen on the field, but for now, this new-look offensive line heading into 2019 is a testament to Gettleman and the front office. They did something we’re not used to seeing and that is having (and executing) a plan.
There are obviously still questions about a long-term right tackle solution, if the improved play of Solder and Hernandez will carry over into year two, and if Halapio can be the true No. 1 guy at center. But even with the questions that might remain, this offensive line has a different feel to it.
A high-paid veteran, two low-end, tough free agent signings, a big-name trade, and a hungry second year player – they may not be as good as the record-setting group of Kareem McKenzie, Chris Snee, Shaun O’Hara, Rich Seubert and David Diehl, but this front-five is a solid combination of proven veterans and young talent that can help this offense generate some noise in 2019.
The expectations of this group to be noticeably better than years past is not unwarranted, and we should appreciate the state of the offensive line as it stands today.