The Giants took a huge step to address a major issue last April — build the offensive line.
They drafted Georgia tackle Andrew Thomas with the fourth overall pick in the draft, and added Shane Lemieux and Matt Peart in the process. In free agency, they signed tackle Cameron Fleming.
Nick Gates, a valuable utility man over the past few seasons, got the nod at center.
Veteran Kevin Zeitler has been a consistent player since he arrived in the Odell Beckham trade in 2018. Three-year vet Will Hernandez had received previous glowing reviews.
Left tackle Nate Solder, who once was the richest lineman with a four-year, $62 million deal decided to opt-out, giving Thomas the left tackle position.
It was a new look and it would take time.
Saquon Barkley was lost early in the season before the line had time to mesh. They also endured two different offensive line coaches last season, one of the rarities in the league.
The early returns –notably on Thomas — weren’t good. The Giants could have grabbed the Jets’ Mehki Becton or Tampa’ Tristan Wirfs, who both graded higher last year.
Yet, this was one of GM Dave Gettleman’s prize projects, and patience would truly be a virtue.
By midseason, the line began to look as seasoned as prime beef, and any fears were put to rest.
Gettleman and his team apparently found some solutions to a lingering problem. That was in spite of less than favorable statistics that showed the team near the bottom of the league in most categories (Pro Football Focus had them 31st in pass-efficiency blocking for starters). In addition, the Giants allowed 50 sacks last season.
Will it all come together again in 2021? A reduced salary cap could stand in its way.
It could get interesting.
The 32-year-old Solder looms as a cap casualty with the team dealing with just over currently $2 million in space. The team could pocket $10 million in space if they cut him after June 1, or he follows the growing rumor of retirement and the team would net $6 million.
The 31-year-old Zeitler, who has been a unifying force despite an adequate 2020 campaign, has a $14 million cap hit. The Giants would like to have him help solidify the line further, and they likely will try to work out an extension for a few years. Still, the thought of ridding themselves of a huge contract is tempting.
Hernandez’s stock has dropped since his rookie campaign, and he is rumored to be on the trading block.
Fleming could be kept as an insurance policy, as most indications have Peart being provided a good opportunity to earn the right tackle spot.
So, it looms as a possible starting front of Thomas and Peart at tackles, Zeitler and Lemieux at guards and Gates at center. Hernandez and Solder are wildcards at the moment.
Backups center Spencer Pulley, tackle Jackson Barton, and guard Kyle Murphy are the only other linemen currently on the roster. Pulley easily could become another cap hit.
A few weeks from now, the free-agency frenzy will begin, and the wheels will begin to turn.
After the draft, the Giants should know whether this line is ready to take the next step from a 6-10 team last year.