Over the past two months the New York Giants have experienced a roller coaster of emotions concerning their offensive line.
Coming into the offseason the offensive line in New York was a huge question mark. Although the team only allowed 30 sacks last season (Tied for 9th best in the NFL), there were questions about former first-round pick Justin Pugh. The Giants looked to replace Pugh at right tackle and push him to guard, where they feel he would be more effective. That wish came true when the Giants selected mauling tackle Ereck Flowers with the 9th pick of the 2015 NFL Draft.
After the draft, the line appeared to be set: Will Beatty at left tackle, Pugh at left guard, Weston Richburg at center, Geoff Schwartz at right guard, and Flowers at right tackle. That was until Beatty sustained a pectoral injury while lifting weights which is projected to keep Beatty out of action for at least half of the season. This forced a shuffling of the offensive line once again. Flowers rotated over to left tackle and Marshall Newhouse became the front-runner to start at right tackle.
The shift brought a whole new level of uncertainty to the already fragile group. Flowers will be thrown into the most important spot on the line before he even takes an NFL snap. Newhouse lost his starting spot on the Green Bay Packers in 2013 and failed to impress last season in Cincinnati.
Enter Jake Long. The former number one overall pick out of Michigan found himself as a free agent for the second time in his career this season. The St. Louis Rams released Long from his 4-year, $36 million contract on the eve of free agency this March. During his tenure with the Rams, Long fell victim to back-to-back ACL tears.
Due to his recent injury history Long has had difficulty finding a home this offseason. As free agency hits its third month. Long has watched many other offensive linemen, including Newhouse, sign with new teams. While his injury history is a major red flag, the talent is undeniable. After being selected first, Long immediately became a starter for the Miami Dolphins. Long started every game of his first three seasons in the NFL. From 2008 to 2011 he was selected to four straight Pro Bowls. In 2010 Long received First-team All Pro honors.
The case of Jake Long is the ultimate Risk/Reward situation for the Giants. Last month the team hosted Long for a visit that resulted in the lineman leaving New York without a contract. The team has become understandably wary of injury risks for its offensive linemen. In addition to losing Beatty this season, the team was without Schwartz all of last season due to toe and ankle injuries. Signing Long would bring similar risk to the team.
However, there is also an issue of need. The pressure on the team’s offensive line is extremely high. The Giants come into the season with high expectations on offense. The signing of Shane Vereen and the return of Victor Cruz add firepower to an already-explosive offense that ended last season on a surge. But the offense can only go as the line allows it to.
Confidence in the offense line is a key to any quarterback’s success on the field. In 2013, when Manning was sacked a career high 39 times, he produced a career low 69.4 passer rating. Last season, when the sack total fell to 28, Manning’s rating jumped to a solid 92.1. Back in 2013, Manning regularly seemed panicked and uncertain in the packet, as he often rushed his throws and made mental errors while making his reads, resulting in a league-high 27 interceptions thrown. Last season, however, Manning was noticeably more calm as the season wore on. This improved pocket comfortability led to better decisions, nearly half the interceptions, and was a huge reason why he had one his best seasons as a pro.
The Giants come into this season hopeful that they can make a huge leap after a disappointing 2014. This hope starts on the offensive line. Jake Long made all four of his Pro Bowls as a left tackle. Signing him could possibly move Flowers over to right tackle while he continues to develop. Even he is more suited for a move to right tackle, a healthy Long is an upgrade over Newhouse, and the team should pursue him him to play on the right side. Either way, Long would fill a need on the line.
Unless Jake Long’s ACL injuries have hindered his current ability to the point where they have taken too much of a toll and will never be close to the Pro Bowl player he once was, the Giants should strongly consider signing him.