EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It is almost as if the pretty girl in school had a crush on the New York Giants. She happened to be a few years older, so they never had the courage to make a move, and never seriously looked into the possibility that it could potentially work out. Without the effort, there never was a chance.
This was the situation with offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth. He was a free agent this past offseason after 11 successful seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. He's soon-to-be 36 years old and on the back nine of his NFL career, but still a top-notch lineman. Pro Football Focus ranks him seventh among 74 offensive tackles.
Scared by his age (or so they say), the Giants didn't express interest in the most attractive free-agent tackle this offseason. The Giants elected to stay put with the unproven Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart as their starters on the left and right sides, respectively.
It was, to be kind, a flawed plan.
The Los Angeles Rams had something else in mind. They decided to exile former No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson and sign Whitworth to a three-year, $33.75 million deal this offseason. This was their a major part of their plan to fixed a broken offense.
The addition of Whitworth has been a game-changer.
"He's been outstanding. He's influenced and affecting his teammates in a positive way really from Day 1 and since he got in here," Rams coach Sean McVay said Wednesday on a conference call with Giants reporters. "He kind of did it at first by observing and doing things the right way every single day. And then he started to really be able to coach guys up. He's been a great example of what it looks like to be a pro. You can see why he's been so successful through the course of his career. He's also been a great resource for me to lean on as far as trusting the players and empowering them. Very thankful to have such a great leader, great person, great player like him on our team."
The Rams (5-2) have a top-10 offense and rushing attack after finishing near the bottom of the league (32nd and 31st) last season. Whitworth has been a key component to the turnaround.
Not expressing interest is a decision the Giants should regret. They desperately needed a veteran left tackle that could be trusted to protect quarterback Eli Manning's blindside, especially with the other edge a question mark.
Whitworth was available to be their answer, except the Giants inexplicably opted to ... do not much at all to upgrade their offensive line. They took a late flier on D.J. Fluker, who is now starting at right guard, and drafted Adam Bisnowaty in the sixth round. It wasn't enough to avoid the offense from being handicapped by the problems off the edges.
"Well, again, we want to be a younger football team and everybody has an opinion about who was available and who wasn't," general manager Jerry Reese said last week. "To us, it didn't make sense for us, and that's what we went with. We want to be a younger offensive line. Again, do you want to try to develop a 23-year-old guy, or do you want to bring in a 36-year-old guy? We chose to go with the young guy."
The Rams weren't all that worried about Whitworth's age. They saw through the number.
"When you look back at the history of the league and it's kind of a little bit different finding a tackle with his amount of experience, but it's important to consider: What does the tape look like? What does the production down-in and down-out? How does he take care of himself?" McVay said. "He's played at a Pro Bowl-caliber level the last couple years and been extremely efficient and extremely productive and takes great care of himself. So I think that is why you see him as the outlier for those tackles that you go pay him the amount of money that you do.
"But he's certainly making us right on that decision."
The Giants' line has hamstrung their passing attack. They've had weeks when Manning has been forced to get rid of the ball faster than any other quarterback in the league.
As for Whitworth, he's possibly the single-best offseason acquisition of any free agent this year. He has reshaped the Rams' offensive line.
Whitworth was selected to be a captain in his first year on a young team, a lead-by-example guy who immediately caught his teammates' attention.
"A lot of young people in today's society believe that leadership is the loudest person in the room, or the person who's always commanding people," Whitworth told ESPN several weeks back. "To me, that's not leadership. That's just a loud voice; just someone who's assertive. There's a difference. Leadership, to me, is about the ability to have people want to hear what you have to say. People want to be around you, people want to believe in what you tell them, and they feel good when they walk away from you about who they are and what they're doing."
Whitworth's presence on a young Giants line, with four of its five original starters 27 or younger, would have been invaluable on and off the field. Flowers and Hart could use the positive influence. Nothing has worked so far with them.
The Giants' line has been a constant figure of uncertainty. They have started five different line combinations in seven games, and Justin Pugh has been asked to flip back and forth from left guard to right tackle with Hart injured and struggling badly.
The line is one of many reasons they are 30th in the NFL, having averaged 16.0 points per game this season. Whitworth might not have solved all their woes, but he certainly would've helped.
The Giants whiffed on their opportunity to court the best offensive tackle on the market. Flowers is ranked 53rd out of 74 offensive tackles by Pro Football Focus. He has allowed almost double the pressures and is among the worst run-blocking tackles (66th out of 71) in the league.
The Giants have suffered as a result of their decision to not try to sign Whitworth. There appears to be no doubt about that.