It just made too much sense. With new coach Pat Shurmur wanting Eli Manning to stick around as his starting quarterback at least through 2018, and the Giants in prime draft-day position with a top-five pick and new general manager Dave Gettleman touting a strong connection to Norwell from his time with the Carolina Panthers, filling the team’s biggest need — in the trenches — seemed like a piece of cake.
The ex-Giants coach, in a move that reaffirmed the Jacksonville Jaguars‘ sneakily brilliant commitment to stocking up at the line of scrimmage, stole Norwell, one of free agency’s surest things and the consensus top guard available, right out of New York’s grasp.
Suddenly, without the one big-ticket veteran that warranted their infatuation and seemed destined to become a Giant, Gettleman’s bunch is left to turn to Plan B. The question is: What is Plan B? It’s up to you to decide whether the Giants ever had one to begin with, but they have no choice now but to move forward, so here’s a look at what could be next now that Norwell is out of the picture:
Let’s start with the veteran free-agent market, which officially opens Wednesday but, for all intents and purposes, is already in full swing. Norwell was the best the Giants could’ve done, although his left-tackle price tag of $66.5 million would’ve been steep for a team with so-so salary-cap space. After him, what’s left in free agency is about what you’d expect — a couple remaining big-money targets, some grizzled rental options, a few low-risk upside projects and even a couple familiar faces:
- Nate Solder: He’s the biggest name outside of Norwell. In fact, his name might be bigger in some circles, even if his play hasn’t always been elite. Solder would strictly offer tackle help, which is fine, but is New York going to outbid New England — or, worse, Cleveland — for his services? If the Giants can and do, they’d offset a lot of the disappointment from the Norwell miss.
- Justin Pugh: Well this might be awkward. But Pugh is, realistically, the second best lineman on the market outside of Solder. The Giants could at least do themselves a favor by reconsidering their former tackle-turned-guard.
- Josh Kline: The 28-year-old fits the mold of a diamond-in-the-rough Gettleman blocker, but the Titans are reportedly hard after him to return. He’d make for a solid consolation prize.
- Ryan Jensen: Coming off a career year with the Baltimore Ravens, he’d make for an immediate center candidate, but if the Giants are more concerned with the guard and tackle spots, how much would they be willing to pay?
- Jack Mewhort: Here’s a case of the name maybe being a little better than the package. Like Pugh, he’s a former early-round tackle converted to guard, but he’s coming off a season-ending injury with the Indianapolis Colts.
- Senio Kelemete: If you’ve never heard of him, you’re probably not alone, but this is the kind of guy Gettleman might adore — an emerging reserve who started eight games for New Orleans at just about every position in 2017.
If you’re the Giants, your best bet at still making a big splash is with Solder, not only because of his name but because of his resume. But in a market that saw the team’s own Weston Richburg land a five-year deal, who’s to say they wouldn’t be forced to make Solder the game’s highest-paid left tackle if they were to strike a contract?
But the best approach, at least in free agency, might actually be to re-up Pugh, or at least attempt to. Whether or not the Giants are able to retain him, adding someone like Kelemete and then supplementing the group with a low-cost, prove-it deal for someone like Jeremiah Sirles or Alex Boone would then at least bolster the competition up front, especially since there’s also …
There’s no way, for the sake of getting offensive-line help, the Giants could pass on a quarterback of the future — or even generational running back Saquon Barkley — with their No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft, right?
Or at least that’s what their stance should be. Unless New York is dead set against taking a RB so early and is absolutely sold on just one of the top passing prospects and that one prospect goes No. 1, there’s no reason the Giants should be taking even this year’s consensus No. 1 lineman, Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, at No. 2. It’s not as if the G-Men might not desperately need blockers in April, but there’s just too much value to be had with the second pick that the team would be better off auctioning it off and trying for a lineman later in the first.
If it were a stud left tackle at No. 2, that might be different. But anyone who argues that Nelson is worth taking regardless of the pick value should first consider what the Giants might be able to get in return for simply moving down a couple spots. If it means landing a lesser guard or even one of the draft’s few first-round tackle prospects plus an extra haul of picks for which Gettleman can target interior competition, that’s exactly the route the Giants should take. Because if Gettleman has proven anything in his track record as a GM, it’s that he’s been able to unearth starting material from later-round linemen.