After finishing 29th in the NFL in rushing last season and struggling to protect quarterback Eli Manning off the edges (don’t be fooled by the low sack numbers), it was inevitable to anybody who watched the Giants last season that they needed to make changes to their offensive line. In fact, it has been long overdue. The unit has not been good enough now for a handful of years, no matter the ever-changing faces.
While not fully to blame -- all 11 players were responsible for the team’s offensive struggles last season -- the O-line shoulders a good chunk. The Giants' offense struggled to score points in 2016. New York couldn’t run the ball. It was imperative that the Giants made some changes to their offensive line this year, even if they were working with limited financial resources in free agency.
The Giants started with Fluker, who comes on the cheap in a deal that could reach $3 million. There will be more moves, in free agency and the draft.
The expectation is that Fluker will play guard, an individual with knowledge of the situation told ESPN. The Giants currently have a vacancy at right guard, with John Jerry a free agent. Jerry started all 17 games, including a playoff game, at right guard last season.
But it's still possible Jerry returns. That door is not believed to be closed there, either.
Put simply, the Giants are looking to add as many promising pieces to the mix as possible and see how it turns out. It seems only Justin Pugh and center Weston Richburg are guaranteed starting spots. Everyone else -- Ereck Flowers, Bobby Hart, Fluker, Brett Jones, Adam Gettis and whoever else joins the party -- will have to earn it.
The Giants have the 23rd pick in the 2017 NFL draft. With the O-line class the weakest it has been in years, even if the Giants select a lineman in the first round, there is no guarantee he will be ready to start. But he would compete.
The competition this year will be real, even for Flowers, the incumbent left tackle who might not ultimately play there.
“Where he ends up is where he ends up,” Giants coach Ben McAdoo recently said of Flowers at the NFL combine. “Right now, he’s playing left tackle like he’s always played for us, and we’ll go from there.”
Flowers, the ninth overall pick in 2015, will have to earn his spot at left tackle or elsewhere after being handed the role each of the previous two seasons. It is just on the Giants to still somehow find someone who can compete. Their tackles right now are Flowers and Hart, with Fluker and Pugh as possible contingencies. Their guards are Pugh and Fluker, with Jones and Gettis as other options.
Unlike last season, the Giants don’t have any other veteran tackles sitting in reserve. Marshall Newhouse signed with the Oakland Raiders, and Will Beatty is not expected to return. The Giants are still looking (albeit on the cheap) for other options. The search never really ends.
Their offensive line remains a work in progress. Don’t be surprised to see multiple additions before all is said and done.
Another free agent? Probably. At least one offensive lineman in the draft? Bet on it.
When it's all over, the Giants’ offensive line will have a different look next season. Hopefully, for the sake of Manning’s health and career, they will be better.
Fluker will be a new face, but not the only one.