The New York Giants have a little over a month to find a dependable offensive tackle. That is the way they need to look at it unless they are content with quarterback Eli Manning being clamped from the edges on an exorbitantly high number of dropbacks.
The Giants started Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart at tackle for most of last season. It didn’t work out well. Flowers struggled, and Hart, a seventh-round pick in 2015, was up-and-down in his first year as a starter. They allowed 105 pressures combined, according to Pro Football Focus. It contributed to an offensive regression that saw the Giants score almost a touchdown less per game than the previous season.
In order to avoid a repeat, free agency or trade is the logical route. The Giants need to find a proven tackle before the draft in order to prevent another season of offensive struggles.
The reasoning is simple. Timing and talent demand it. The Giants own the 23rd pick in the first round. They can’t wait until then to find a solution, especially in the current climate.
This draft is thin at offensive tackle, with no top-10 pick believed to be among the bunch. Alabama’s Cam Robinson, Utah’s Garett Bolles and Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk are expected to be the only first-rounders, and depending on who you talk to, even they might not be worth it. Robinson has off-the-field troubles and strange mental lapses on his resume. Some insiders also believe Ramczyk will tumble in the draft because of his health (hips) and limited playing experience.
So what if the offensive tackle the Giants actually like is off the board by the time they select at No. 23? Is it back to Flowers and Hart, without any contingency plan?
Free agency begins on March 9. The draft's first round is seven weeks later on April 27. If the Giants wait until the draft and come up empty, they will be out of luck. All the true viable tackle options will be long gone.
That’s why it’s mandatory for the Giants to cover their butts in free agency, which begins in a little less than a month. The top free agent tackles are Cincinnati’s Andrew Whitworth, Baltimore’s Ricky Wagner and Detroit’s Riley Reiff. They’re clear-cut starting-caliber players. After that, it’s a crapshoot.
If the Giants whiff on those three or any potential salary-cap casualties, they may be forced to seriously explore the trade market. Cleveland’s Joe Thomas and San Francisco’s Joe Staley are two names that were discussed at last year’s trade deadline, although those talks never became serious.
A trade could prove costly, but the Giants aren’t in position to be passive with their pursuit of a proven offensive tackle like they were last offseason, when they poked and prodded but fell short on their targets in part because of their desire to keep Flowers at left tackle. At least that appears less certain now. The Giants seem open to moving and trying Flowers elsewhere rather than having him being tasked with protecting Manning’s blindside.
“We will evaluate that,” general manager Jerry Reese conceded 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, so I still believe he has a chance to be a good player.”
There is still a chance. The door is not shut on Flowers yet. Still, it doesn’t make sense for the Giants to head into ’17 with Flowers and Hart as their likely starting tackle combination. They would be better suited to have one known quantity and have Flowers and Hart compete for the other job. Throwing another rookie in the mix (possibly not even from the first round) would be too risky a plan to protect an aging Manning.
More than ever, Manning needs supreme protection, especially from the edges. He was never considered mobile, but at 36 he’s even less fleet of foot than ever. That was apparent this past season when Manning had trouble navigating the pocket with consistency and any sort of elusiveness. Instead, he was seemingly stuck in his spot and throwing hurriedly off his back foot or throwing balls away when the pressure came continuously.
At this stage of his career, Manning isn’t going to magically become more mobile. The Giants’ best bet is to improve his protection, and signing or drafting a top guard will only do so much if it’s Flowers and Hart again doing the protecting on the edges. The only logical play is for Reese to find a proven tackle in free agency or via trade. He has a month to get something done.