The New York Giants have some decisions to make this offseason. On the offensive side of the ball, none may be more critical than what they should do at offensive tackle, where they rode most of the season with Ereck Flowers at left tackle and Bobby Hart at right tackle.
The results were rather, let’s just say, anywhere from scary to uninspiring to sufficient. Mostly, there was consistent pressure on quarterback Eli Manning off the edges. The sack number was low (in part because Manning released the ball more quickly than ever), but the pressure was high. And as a result, the offensive production was limited.
Flowers allowed the second-most QB pressures (59) in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. Hart wasn't that far behind, allowing 46 in just 13 starts. The Giants maintained confidence in Flowers, while Hart was benched for the final two games of the season and replaced by impending free agent Marshall Newhouse.
“Ereck has played basically every snap since he has been here. He is an early-out junior, still a young player, but it is time for him to show us the fruits of being a first-round draft pick, and I still think he has a chance to do that,” general manager Jerry Reese said after the season.
“Is he the left tackle? Should he be in a different position? We will evaluate that. But I do think that he is a big, strong kid who has a chance to be a really good player."
The Giants are going to need to think this over long and hard. They dabbled in free agency last year but wouldn’t guarantee the left tackle spot to any of the options (Russell Okung and Donald Penn among them) and came back empty. It proved costly.
After Flowers’ struggles in his second professional season, the team's thinking on free agent tackles likely has changed. The Giants seem at least open to moving Flowers in hope of receiving better returns, because they would be taking a potentially lethal risk if they went into next season with Flowers and Hart penciled in as their starting tackles.
Their options include ...
Free agency and/or trade
Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth makes the most sense. Sure, he’s 35, but he provides a short-term solution that fits the Giants’ limited window with a 36-year-old quarterback. Whitworth is a Pro Bowl tackle who will be costly in a likely two- or three-year deal, but his presence would allow Flowers and Hart to compete for a spot at right tackle or guard, with a more known quantity protecting Manning’s blindside.
The other top tackles on the free agent market (Baltimore’s Ricky Wagner, Oakland’s Menelik Watson and Detroit’s Riley Reiff) will be costly and play on the right side. That would leave the Giants with three right tackles and no left tackle on their roster.
Trading for a veteran tackle such as Cleveland's Joe Thomas or San Francisco's Joe Staley also seems logical. The Browns and 49ers are in rebuild mode. Dealing valuable assets (draft picks and/or players) for an aging tackle makes sense for all parties involved if the price is right. The question is whether Reese has it in him to be creative enough to make it happen. He doesn't have an extensive track record of trades.
2017 NFL draft
The Giants would have taken Michigan State tackle Jack Conklin if he was on the board when they selected 10th overall last season. Instead, the Titans selected Conklin eighth, and he had a strong rookie year.
The Giants could go this route again this year with someone such as Utah’s Garett Bolles, Wisconsin's Ryan Ramczyk or Temple’s Dion Dawkins. Alabama’s Cam Robinson will almost certainly be off the board. Taking a tackle in the later rounds, while not out of the question and a potential long-term solution, doesn’t solve any 2017 problems.
It also can’t be overlooked that the Giants already invested first-round picks in players they thought were tackles (Justin Pugh and Flowers) in two of the past four drafts. A third in five years might not be advisable. The Giants have other positions that have been somewhat neglected and are in need of good, young talent.
This is risky. The Giants would be banking on significant improvement by Flowers in Year 3, because he’s really the only left tackle option on the roster. The Giants wouldn’t play Will Beatty this season, and he’s a free agent. Pugh, meanwhile, isn’t moving back to tackle (which isn’t his best position) with his financial future pending. That would be counterproductive for everybody.
If the Giants do elect to go with Flowers at left tackle and Hart and/or Newhouse (if they re-sign him) on the right side, they would at the very least need some veteran left tackle insurance. But after seeing how this season unfolded, and how Manning and the offense struggled, it would too dangerous a proposition to seriously consider this route. There needs to be something better in the coffers.