Justin Pugh lands on injured reserve, avoids back surgery

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – New York Giants offensive lineman Justin Pugh received positive news on his injured back after meeting with Dr. Robert Watkins this week in California, even if it won't save his season.

Pugh was prescribed rest and rehab on a back problem that has kept him out of the team’s past four games. He will still land on injured reserve for the first time in his career.

Pugh, 27, tried to play through the back pain for several weeks. He even tried to return to practice last Wednesday, but he didn’t make it through the full workout.

"Yeah, I would think any guy that’s in that situation would be a little bit bummed out," Giants interim coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "You’d have to ask him specifically, but he’s a football player, likes playing the game and I’m sure he’s disappointed he’s not going to play the rest of the season."

At least the news that he won’t need surgery is promising. The 2013 first-round pick is an impending free agent, and back surgery would have severely deflated his value.

The Giants (2-11) have a decision to make on Pugh this offseason. He’s going to be one of the top free agents at his position, and this is expected to be a lean year for free-agent offensive linemen.

Pugh and center Weston Richburg, generally considered the Giants’ two best linemen, and D.J. Fluker will be unrestricted free agents this offseason. Fluker provided a huge boost to the team's run game before he was shut down for the season with a foot injury.

Pugh has started all 63 games he has appeared in since being drafted with the 19th pick overall out of Syracuse. He’s the longest-tenured Giant outside of quarterback Eli Manning, long-snapper Zak DeOssie, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and linebacker Mark Herzlich (who has spent the entire season on injured reserve).

Pugh was one of Pro Football Focus’ top-ranked guards each of the past two seasons. He started this season at left guard before eventually moving to right tackle with the Giants in desperate need of help on the edges.

The versatile lineman started three games at left guard and five at right tackle this season. His best effort came in Week 6 matched against Denver Broncos All-Pro linebacker Von Miller.

But Pugh’s back, which he first felt act up during that win in Denver, didn’t cooperate the rest of the way. It will be the fourth straight season he has failed to play 16 games, having missed 17 games over that span.