Five Giant steps back: Offensive line

A year ago, the Giants were preparing to play in the Super Bowl and going through everything the Ravens and 49ers are experiencing this week.

So with it being Super Bowl week, we are exploring five things the Giants need to do to get back to the big game next year. Today, we look at fortifying the offensive line.

The numbers: The offensive line improved in 2012 after a down year in 2011.

The Giants rushed for 1,862 yards and finished 14th in rushing in the NFL, up from 1,427 yards the year before, when they finished last.

Eli Manning was sacked 19 times, down from the 28 sacks he took in 2011. So the offensive line improved last while also dealing with injuries to David Diehl and Sean Locklear at right tackle.

Profootballfocus.com recently ranked the Giants' offensive line 11th overall based on three categories (pass protection, run and screen blocking, and penalties).

Breakdown: Despite the statistical improvement in the trenches, the Giants enter a pivotal offseason for their front line. The left side faces uncertainty, with tackle Will Beatty and guard Kevin Boothe set to become free agents.

Beatty, 27, is probably the Giants' biggest free agent; solid left tackles are not easy to find. Boothe also has proven his worth with his versatility.

Chris Snee, fresh off his Pro Bowl appearance, will soon undergo surgery on his hip. Snee and center David Baas, who played through a couple of injuries, need to get healthy.

And then the Giants need to figure out what they will do at right tackle. Diehl, 32, is entering the final year of his deal worth $4.1 million in base salary. The Giants, who are projected to be $4.7 million over the cap, have always liked his versatility since he can play both tackle positions and guard. But Jerry Reese, Tom Coughlin and the staff were talking about James Brewer, a fourth-round pick in 2011, as a possible starter last summer in camp, so they could decide it might be time to see what he can do.

Locklear was one of Reese's best free-agent signings last year, but he will be a free agent and his future is uncertain after suffering a season-ending knee injury.

Giant possibilities: If the Giants are going to be Super Bowl contenders again, they have to protect Manning and open up holes for David Wilson, Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown.

This is a chance for the Giants to lock down a solid left tackle in Beatty and maintain stability if they can also re-sign Boothe. The Giants don't often spend big money on free agents, so you have to figure they will try to keep Beatty at a reasonable price.

The Giants will have to figure out what to do at right tackle. They could draft a starting tackle with their 19th overall pick, but Reese typically will go best player available, and that could be a defensive player.

The Giants still should think about drafting another offensive lineman at some point, since the average age of the starting five is 30. Adding a veteran lineman in free agency for depth, like Reese did with Locklear, will also help.

If the Giants are going to contend again, the offensive line has to be a priority, starting with their own free agents.

Tell us what you think the Giants need to do with the offensive line below.