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New York Giants

Curious offensive line strategy puts otherwise ready Giants at risk

John Korduner/Icon Sportswire

Adding the kind of offensive weaponry that stands to augment Eli Manning’s twilight years, the New York Giants did well to push themselves closer to the NFC’s top level.

Giving Odell Beckham Jr. some help in Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram will invigorate a Giants skill-position corps that did not bring much firepower beyond their moody superstar. The franchise using its first-round draft pick on a tight end made sense given what this position deteriorated into over the past few years, and Marshall probably has some higher-end WR2 seasons left in him.

But even if these were going to be the big-ticket items of the 2017 offseason, the Giants hurt themselves by not putting more resources into their offensive line.

Because there are short- and long-term issues besieging this unit, one that produced the No. 29 rushing attack last season. The Giants were right not to overpursue running backs, but they needed more than a buy-low addition of a Chargers castoff and a sixth-round flier.

D.J. Fluker and Adam Bisnowaty being the only outside additions would make sense for a team that didn’t have major issues up front, but for the Giants, this investment strategy looks curious.

The line now projects to start two disappointing ex-first-round tackles, with Ereck Flowers looking essentially unchallenged on the left side going into training camp despite two rough years. The Bolts abandoned the Fluker-at-tackle experiment after two seasons, but the way the Giants operated over the past three months — in re-signing John Jerry and eschewing higher draft picks — seems to leave no option but to put Fluker back at right tackle.

Fluker managing to be a decent signing (because really the bar is low here after the four-year run he had in San Diego) and Jerry continuing to play at his middling level would make this an improved line. But even the best parts of this equation are no longer certainties for Big Blue.

Both Justin Pugh’s and Weston Richburg’s free agencies are hitting at a time when offensive linemen have never been more valuable. The contracts given to Kevin Zeitler, Riley Reiff and Matt Kalil and others are the main case studies from a point in time where most NFL teams recognized the perils of developing blockers in the modern game.

(Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

The Chargers learned this with Fluker, and the Giants are going through it with Flowers. March’s extreme sellers’ market will inflate the asking prices of Pugh and Richburg.

The Giants entering this predicament with an otherwise shaky line and no in-house replacement options for their top two blockers poses a complex problem for a team that doesn’t have many other deterrents that would stand in its way of making a legitimate Super Bowl ascent.

It’s understandable the Giants (reportedly Garett Bolles fans) didn’t want to make a first-round reach, in their opinion, for Ryan Ramczyk or Cam Robinson. Especially after they used a No. 9 overall pick on Flowers. But waiting until Round 6 to select line help wasn’t wise, not with the contract conundrum that’s coming and the iffy depth populating this year’s team.

If the Giants had so little faith in this year’s rookie linemen, then wouldn’t trying to go the route many teams did by adding a proven veteran be a better idea? Fluker is far from that.

After all, Flowers wasn’t drafted to play left tackle, yet there he stays, penalty problems and all. This isn’t to say the former Miami standout is a bust, because linemen are taking much longer to develop under the current CBA, but we’re obviously much closer to that becoming a reality. And it would be a sobering one for a franchise that doesn’t get too many chances to make top-10 picks.

Fluker not working out leaves the likes of Bisnowaty and Bobby Hart as emergency options. Couple this with Flowers’ instability on the other side, and Jerry not having an extensive history of solid work, and there is little foundation to speak of.

The two foundational pieces are going to cost come 2018 as well.

With Zeitler signing for a record $12 million per year and once-benched Ronald Leary getting $9 million-plus annually, agents of proven guard starters who will be 2018 UFAs — a class that includes Pugh, Gabe Jackson, Andrew Norwell and Jack Mewhort — are going to be demanding. The number of eight-figure-per-year guards (currently at five) is going to rise as the salary cap continues to, and Pugh’s camp will be seeking at least $10 million per to stay off free agency. The Giants’ insistence on paying three of their four defensive linemen top-market deals has eaten into the funds. Not upping the ante for Pugh, who is feeling pretty good about a free agency bid, before he entered his fifth-year option season could be costly.

Because the center market hasn’t blown up like guard has, and the fact that New York’s snapper is not on Pugh’s level yet, would make Richburg easier to keep. But part-time Packers starter J.C. Tretter just signed for nearly $6 million per year; the Giants’ second-best lineman will understandably want far more.

Going into 2018, only Flowers and Jerry are under contract among projected Giants starters. That’s a grim picture.

Drafting a receiving tight end and signing the greatest mercenary receiver in NFL history suggest more spread looks and additional one-on-one assignments up front. For a team with one of the worst sets of tackles, that could negate some of Manning’s opportunities to capitalize on his restocked arsenal.

Free agent options are obviously scarce, but it may come to that, especially if Flowers disappoints this summer. He should have been tried at right tackle before now anyway.

There’s just a lot that has to go right for the Giants to trot out a quality group here, and the blocking contingent that does show up could damage Big Blue’s efforts at booking a home playoff game for the first time in six years.

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