Going into training camp, Geoff Schwartz and Chris Snee were presumed to be the starting guards for the Giants, with veteran free agent J.D. Walton and rookie second round draft pick Weston Richburg battling for the starting center job in between them. Snee did heal sufficiently from his prior injuries, and Schwartz suffered a severe toe injury during the preseason, causing a line shuffling that affected the offense for the entire season. Journeyman John Jerry, an atrocious run blocker, started all 16 games at right guard, while Richburg was forced to move into the left guard spot for 15 games. He improved as the season wore on, but his growing pains were evident.
Jerry is a free agent, and won’t be re-signed. Veterans Adam Snyder, who started one game at left guard, and James Brewer, a 4th round draft pick, who has played both tackle and guard over his four year career will similarly be permitted to enter the free agent market. It’s possible that Brewer will return for the veteran minimum if he doesn’t catch on elsewhere, but he’s been a disappointment, and the team may be read to move on.
Dallas Reynolds, a versatile backup, who plays both center and guard was re-signed for the veteran minimum, and Brett Jones, a young, promising Canadian Football League Superstar centre (Canadian spelling) was brought in to compete with Richburg, and for one of the guard positions. Walton is still on the roster, although with a $3.6 million dollar cap number, that can be reduced to just $600,000 if he is released, the team should make a move on him before March 10th, whether it be an outright release or a renegotiation.
Justin Pugh has played right tackle since being drafted out of Syracuse in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. It is thought that he’s better suited to play guard professionally, depending on what moves are made between now and July, he may be asked to move inside. Last week, Giants360 looked at offensive tackles and compared to interior lineman, Orlando Franklin seems to be the best option available on the free agent market. Franklin plays both tackle and guard and could compete with Pugh for the right tackle position with the loser having dibs on the right guard spot. Richburg and Jones could then battle it out for the starting center position next to Will Beatty at left tackle and Schwartz at left guard.
The above combination would give the Giants their best starting five offensive lineman since 2011 and the kind of potentially dominating line that would allow them to run the ball with impunity and keep Eli Manning clean in the pocket while he executes Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offense. Best of all, it would allow Jerry Reese to concentrate on defense in the draft and infuse it with the talent needed to quickly bring that unit up to NFL standards and vault the Giants into contention.
Looking at potential free agent interior lineman, we are going to break from out usual format of breaking the free agents into categories, as there were so few viable options to review. This speaks to NFL teams reluctance to let good offensive linemen hit the open market. Giants360 has identified three interior linemen that will be on the market starting next Tuesday at 4 PM.
Rodney Hudson, C, 25, 6’2″, 291 lbs, 5th season, Kansas City: The Giants do not find themselves in need of a center this season with Richburg, Jones, Walton, and Reynolds on the roster, but the team would be foolish not to at least look at Hudson, who started all 16 games for the Chiefs in 2014 and 31 of their last 32. He is solid as both a pass and run blocker, and would be available for a reasonable salary, having made just $1,115,577 in 2014. Given the Giants relative wealth at the position, bringing him in is unlikely.
Joe Reitz, G, 27, 6’7″, 256 lbs, 8th season (5th accrued), Indianapolis: Reitz is a flexible lineman who plays both guard positions and has played from right tackle in his NFL career. Somewhat of a journeyman, he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Ravens in 2008 and has accrued just 4 seasons of service in 8 years of NFL play. While a better pass protector than run blocker, Reitz has been solid in both areas. He could likely be signed for the veteran minimum, his salary in 2014, and would compete for a starting guard position, but would more likely be a valuable backup who could play three positions alone the line if injury strikes.
Mike Pollak, G, 6’4″, 299 lbs, 8th season, Cincinnati: Pollak has played for the Colts, Panthers, and Bengals already in his NFL career, giving him young journeyman status. Rumors already have the Jets interested in the 41 game starter (in 58 career games), and it’s easy to see why, as he’s a solid pass and run blocker who will be available to a reasonable $2 to $2.5 million per season. He would be able to take over the right guard position for the Giants, leaving Pugh to play right tackle.
Many readers and Twitter followers (@Giants360) have mentioned Forty-Niners free agent Mike Iupati as a player the Giants should sign. In reviewing the interior lineman, Iupati was eliminated due to his pass blocking struggles over the past three seasons. He is the most dominating run blocker among the impending free agents, but given the salary he is seeking, thought to be in excess of this 2014 salary of $4.6 million per season, his inconsistency in pass protection make him an undesirable option. That money is better invested in Franklin.
This week, we will finish up our look at impending free agents with a look at some of the position players on offense that could help take the Giants to the next level. It will be just in time for the opening of free agency next week as we anxiously await the moves Jerry Reese makes to bring the team back into relevance.
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