EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — General manager Jerry Reese and the New York Giants’ front office concocted a plan this offseason that included bringing back an offensive line that struggled last season. It was a head-scratching plan, at best.
The Giants cited continuity and familiarity for a young group they were hoping would grow into something more reliable. They went all-in on Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart as their left and right tackles, respectively, despite no significant evidence either would be a substantial player at the NFL level. It was a flawed line of thinking.
“Well, the starting five we felt like had a lot of snaps together, and we felt like those guys, when you have some continuity in your offensive line, that’s a help,” Reese said of the offseason approach during his annual bye week news conference as his team sits 1-6 and in last place in the NFC East.
“We brought [D.J.] Fluker in,” he said. “We drafted a young kid. … And there weren’t a lot of choices to go out there. We looked at a lot of different situations, but there just weren’t a lot of offensive line help [options] out there from our perspective, and we had an opportunity to get somebody, but we looked at some different situations, and it didn’t work out for us.”
Eli Manning has spent much of the season being picked up off the ground by his struggling offensive line. Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire
Fluker came cheaply. He was a one-year, prove-it flier. The draft pick was a sixth-rounder, Adam Bisnowaty, who sits on the practice squad.
The Giants didn’t invest heavily in improving their offensive line. They doubled and tripled down on Flowers at left tackle, saying he was working out during the offseason — as if that translated to improved technique or a sudden spike in instincts. The Giants re-signed John Jerry to play right guard. They signed Fluker to be a backup, barely giving him a shot to start during training camp.
Through it all, they bypassed the big free agents, most notably left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who signed with the Los Angeles Rams. Reese and the Giants never showed any significant interest in the 35-year-old. All he’s done is stabilize the Rams’ offensive line and enter the conversation as the single-best offseason acquisition across the NFL.
“Well, again, we want to be a younger football team, and everybody has an opinion about who was available and who wasn’t,” Reese said. “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 number 36 was an interesting choice, considering Reese wasn’t asked specifically about Whitworth, who will turn 36 this season. But Reese did re-sign the 31-year-old Jerry, and his top offseason acquisition was 33-year-old wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
The Giants clearly weren’t fully intent on being a younger football team. It’s a curious approach regardless, with a soon-to-be 37-year-old quarterback who lacks mobility and needs maximum protection to be successful.
“Yeah, well, again, we want to be a younger football team,” Reese said. “We looked at all different situations with all the offensive linemen available. We stayed with what we have.”
It was obvious in training camp the approach could be trouble. Flowers struggled badly. It became more evident as the season progressed. Hart injured his ankle and hasn’t played well. He has subsequently been benched, and guard Justin Pugh has been forced to move out to tackle.
The Giants’ offense has been handicapped by the offensive line. They are 27th in rushing, despite more success in recent weeks, and have to scheme to get the ball out of Manning’s hands quickly because of the inevitable pressure.
But Reese remains all-in on Flowers and the line. He insisted Flowers was making progress and getting better. He emphatically stated Flowers takes too much blame and is not the reason for the Giants’ 1-6 record. Reese said the blame should be on his shoulders, but then he denied overestimating what the Giants had with the offensive line entering this season, particularly at tackle.
“No. I think our offensive line — we have some young players,” he said. “They have improved. We’ve run the ball some, a little better than we have in the past. But you have to be consistent doing it. You have to commit to running the ball some. I think our offensive line is comparable. Do we want to upgrade our offensive line? Of course we do, but is our offensive line comparable to a lot of teams around the National Football League? Absolutely, it is.”
No wonder they didn’t feel the need to make any significant offseason upgrades on the offensive line. Being comparable to other bad lines seems to be enough.