What happens the next few weeks will indicate more about what the Giants truly think about their offensive line than any comments made prior to the start of NFL free agency.
Thus far this offseason, they jettisoned Kevin Zeitler, their starting right guard the past two seasons, to gain $12 million in badly needed salary cap space, and negotiated down the contract of Nate Solder, their erstwhile starting left tackle, to gain even more cap room. Exactly how much has not been revealed but expect it to be way, way down from the $16.5 million cap hit Solder was scheduled for in 2021.
Monday, teams can begin talks with unrestricted free agents, the so-called legal tampering period. No deals can be made official until Wednesday, which is the start of the new league year, but plenty of deals will be agreed to and leaked prior to the official opening of the signing period.
The Giants can, of course, forgo paying big bucks, or even moderate bucks, in free agency and wait until the NFL draft in late April to fortify the depth, and perhaps add a starting player to their offensive line. Is that a smart course of action? With Andrew Thomas, Shane Lemieux, Nick Gates and possibly Matt Peart, the Giants already have enough youth along their line and adding a rookie would only bring down the experience level.
“We all want things to happen fast,” general manager Dave Gettleman said. “Just for what it’s worth, in terms of where our offensive line is, they’re young and they’re talented. Things take time. We believe in these guys, they all came along, we finished the season fairly strong. One of the things that I would say to you is we were 4-2 in our division and if you look at our division, all of those defensive lines that we play, all those fronts are big, powerful, athletic defensive lines and our guys held up. So, we’re getting there. It’s the old saying, you’ve got to run the ball and you’ve got to obviously be able to protect the passer. We’re young and we’re getting better.’’
The Giants were only about $4 million under the salary cap of $182.5 million before the savings from Solder’s restructuring hit the books. They are not likely to be able to afford the top offensive linemen on the market — Trent Williams, Joe Thuney come to mind — but they might be in play for the next tier of players. Riley Reiff has 119 starts the past eight years, mostly at left tackle, and he could be a right tackle option. Veteran tackles Alejandro Villanueva and Kelvin Beachum are also available.
It will be interesting to see how the market treats Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, the two starting tackles for the Chiefs, both released last week. Fisher is coming off a torn Achilles tendon in January and Schwartz had back surgery in February. Would the Giants gamble on the health of one of these players on a one-year deal?
Solder turns 33 next month and will return to compete for a job. It will not be at left tackle, where Andrew Thomas, the No. 4 pick in the 2020 draft, resides. Solder could swing over to right tackle — a spot he has not played since his rookie season in 2011 — and find himself in a competition with Peart for the starting role. Solder, who opted out last season, could emerge as a backup tackle at both spots. His body was able to heal after a year out of the game, but it remains to be seen how much, if anything, he lost while sitting out.