We conclude the offensive side of the ball in our annual “Keep ’em, dump ’em” breakdown with the offensive line.
2015 in Review: The hope going into 2015 was that the offensive line was finally set for a while.
Ah, but you know what they say about hopes and good intentions and all that, right?
Starting left tackle Will Beatty ended up tearing a pectoral muscle in a weight room accident, an injury from which he never really recovered and which, in part, led to him missing the entire 2015 season.
Then Geoff Schwartz, who has been snake bit since signing with the Giants, ended up getting hurt AGAIN, forcing the Giants to switch to their Plans B, C and D.
So what was the end result? Per Football Outsiders, the Giants offensive line was ranked 11th in run-blocking and sixth in pass protection, which isn’t bad.
However, the Giants ended up ranked 11th in stuffs (tackles made at or behind the line of scrimmage) and were 21st in second-level yards gained by the running backs (this due to the blocking at the second level), a big reason (but not the only one), why the running game struggled.
The good news is that the offensive line really isn’t that far from being a complete unit. Let’s break it down.
We’ll start with rookie Ereck Flowers, who was thrown into the deep end at left tackle much sooner than the coaches likely would have preferred.
According to Pro Football Focus, Flowers was the worst offensive lineman on the Giants, and it wasn’t even close. The rookie allowed five sacks, 17 hits and 47 hurries as a pass blocker, while racking up 10 penalties.
To that, we have a couple of thoughts. First, Flowers is a rookie, and it’s rare that a rookie offensive lineman comes into the league, starts right out of the chute (at the all-important left tackle spot no less) and shows himself to be the next Jonathan Ogden.
Flowers, in our review, came as advertised—a nasty sort in run blocking but a very flawed player in pass blocking, where he all too often lunged at guys, which took away his marvelous balance and leverage.
The good news is that Flowers will learn from this. It will be interesting to see how new offensive line coach Mike Solari works with him and the other youngsters moving forward, particularly with drill work and technique.
Because while there’s no question that Flowers is bursting with talent that hasn’t come close to being fully harvested at this level, he definitely needs some refinement on his technique.
When last spring we made the comparison of center Weston Richburg to former center Shaun O’Hara—one we offered to Richburg directly—he was obviously pleased.
As well he should be, as Richburg has quietly developed into one of the top young centers in the NFL. Ranked as Pro Football Focus’s third-best center, Richburg allowed just 12 quarterback pressures all season, none of which resulted in a sack.
Perhaps even more important is that Richburg has quietly developed into an offensive leader on a unit that really was devoid of such leadership (yes, there’s Eli Manning, but Manning can’t do it alone).
Richburg, who enters his third season as a pro but his second as the full-time center, is among the least of this team’s worries moving forward.
Justin Pugh, whom we also see developing into a leader. We said it before about Pugh and will say it again—he reminds us very much of David Diehl in that he’s a versatile lineman and a young leader on that team.
The concern, though, we have with Pugh is his recent health issues of the last two seasons. In 2014, Pugh missed two late-season games with a quad ailment; this past year, he missed two games due to a lingering concussion.
This isn’t to say that Pugh is injury-prone—far from it. Still we need to point out that Pugh had a concussion as a rookie during training camp, and we would be concerned moving forward since he’s already now had two concussions in his short three-year career.
Pugh, by the way, is due a $1.157 million base salary, all of which is guaranteed for 2016. Given the cap space the Giants are expected to have, it might not be a bad idea to re-sign him this year to a long-term deal structured in such a way that they could get out of it if Pugh’s health becomes an issue.
For two seasons now, the Giants were looking for Geoff Schwartz to be their starting right guard. The injury bug has had other ideas.
Since singing a lucrative four-year contract with the Giants in 2014, one that paid out $5.7 million in guaranteed money (all of which he’s cashed in on by the way), Schwartz has played 778 offensive snaps for the Giants. He’s also missed 16 games over that same time span, again due to injury.
Schwartz is a good guy—very media friendly. However, he hasn’t been consistent enough from what we’ve seen, even at his native right guard spot.
We also found it somewhat unsettling that back in the summer, he had to miss time with a sore ankle (yes the same one that he had operated on in 2014).
Former offensive line coach Pat Flaherty at one point hinted that Schwartz’s injury-related struggles back in the summer might have been just as much mental as they were physical.
“I think when you have an injury such as what Geoff had, probably in your mind—and hopefully it’s in the back of your mind until it leaves your mind—is that you’re cautious of people around you. Are they going to fall on you?” Flaherty said last August.
“He’s full go; he’s okay and recovered, but I think that’s kind of in your mind, but it will take some time for him to work it out. He’ll get it out. He’s a guy who’s played this game long enough so he’ll get it out his mind and turn it loose.”
The question now becomes whether the Giants want to keep Schwartz, who turns 30 this year, or if they want to recoup the cap savings, which would be nearly $3 million (with a $1.916 million dead money cap hit) if they do lop his contract off the books.
Such a move wouldn’t surprise us, not if the Giants think they might be able to plug-in Bobby Hart, who by the way held his own at both right guard and right tackle (we think he’s better suited for guard, by the way) into that spot.
If the personnel department is truly going to turn over a new leaf, it’s really time that they start cutting ties with players who spend more time in the trainer’s room than on the field.
We wouldn’t be surprised if Hart is in the running for a starting job next year. Again, we think right guard would be his best position.
Yes it is a long shot for a seventh-round draft pick to take on such a big responsibility and be successful, but the Giants are long overdue to find another Ahmad Bradshaw type of player who comes in and has similar success as a starter.
In a perfect scenario, Will Beatty, who should be fully healthy after missing all of last year, takes a pay cut to his $6.625 million base salary and moves to right tackle.
We don’t see it happening. First, if we’re Beatty, we seek our release so we can hit the open market where left tackles are at a premium.
Further, with the last of the guaranteed money paid to Beatty in 2015, it’s possible that he might be able to get one more contract that shells out guaranteed money for the next year or two.
Second, Beatty is on the wrong side of 30. The Giants can probably get a younger option at right tackle for maybe half of what Beatty’s 2016 base salary ($6.625 million) pays.
Third, there is a matter of consistency. In his first season after signing that new deal, Beatty was dreadful, allowing a team-high 13 sacks in 2013 before finally calming down and giving up just three in 2014. Between the inconsistency and then the injury, simply put, Beatty hasn’t yielded the return on investment the Giants probably expected.
So what happens if the Giants do part ways with Beatty, who is not moving back to left tackle, if you’re wondering.
Our guess is he’ll be designated a post-June 1 cut in order to maximize the cap savings and minimize the dead money hit.
If the Giants were to release Beatty and not designate him a post-June 1 cut, they’d “save” $4.175 million but be charged $5 million against their cap. In other words, he’d yield a negative savings, or really no savings at all, which is why we really believe the Giants will definite him as a post-June 1 cut.
The saving for a post-June 1 designation now bumps up to $6.675 million with $2.5 million in dead money to hit 2016 and the balance ($2.5 million) to hit 2017. In this instance, where there is an actual savings, it makes sense to use one of the two post-June 1 designations if they are indeed parting ways with him.
The Giant might not have much of a choice but to hold onto John Jerry for the final year of his contract, a year in which he’s due to count for $1.9 million against the salary cap.
Ultimately, the goal is to replace some of the veteran talent with younger guys such as Brett Jones, who lost his rookie season due to a knee injury, and to still to be determined new faces.
Until that talent is assembled, Jerry at least provides some experience at both guard and tackle in the event of an emergency.
Although Dallas Reynolds filled in nicely at both guard and center, we suspect that if Jones, the CFL star, comes along in this, his second season, he’ll become the primary backup behind Richburg and at guard.
Marshall Newhouse gave it his all, and while not quite the disaster Charles Brown was the year prior, the Giants need to replace him with a better option.
Per Pro Football Focus, Newhouse allowed 51 quarterback pressures in 15 games played last season, his second highest total of his career.
His run blocking also wasn’t as crisp as it needed to be, especially after the Giants lost Schwartz for the season.
It’s hard not to imagine that the Giants won’t go in a different direction here, even though Newhouse is signed for another season at a very reasonable $1.95 million in 2016.
Emmett Cleary showed flashes in training camp, but landed on the practice squad. He’ll get an opportunity to compete as a backup this year.
Brandon Mosley is yet the latest in a string of drafted offensive linemen who turned out to be busts.
Mosley, whose NFL career has been filled with injuries, has twice now dealt with back ailments, the most recent bout landing him on season-ending injured reserve.
A fourth round draft pick in 2012, Mosley will be an unrestricted free agent who is not expected to be back in 2016.
Advanced analytics via Pro Football Focus. Salary cap info via Over the Cap.
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