If you have been paying attention to NFL free agency over the last few days, you are more than likely within the majority that is shocked by the guaranteed money being given out of free agent offensive linemen. The NFL is an admittedly copy-cat league that currently thrives more so off parity (coaching trees, personnel trees) than any revolutionary scheme or personnel idea (Chip Kelly, The Wild-Cat). With the admired success of Dallas’ offensive line model, teams have been throwing huge dollars to free agent lineman in the hopes of capturing similar success in the trenches. It is worth noting the Cowboys built their revered line through the draft–Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick were all 1st round draft picks taken between 2011 and 2014. Than why are teams forking over huge dollars to–at best–middle of the road tackles and setting records for offensive guard deals?
Greg Robinson. Luke Joeckel. Eric Fischer. Chance Warmack. DJ Fluker.
All high-end draft prospects that never panned out for their respective teams. It’s become very difficult to draft and develop offensive line talent. This year’s offensive line class is marred by uncertainty and thus, teams dipped into the free agent pool to remedy the problem in the trenches.
The Giants first order of business this off-season was supposed to be an address of the protection problems. That has not taken place in a manner that would be deemed satisfactory by most people. They recently signed the aforementioned draft disappointment DJ Fluker to a one-year flier deal. Taking a chance on the physically gifted yet frustratingly inconsistent Fluker is not the answer to their problem but gaining a young lineman (he’s 26) with experience at multiple positions is a step in the right direction.
Once the offensive line market materialized, it was not conceivable for the Giants to be players for more than one player. Their salary cap situation is fluid, but there is considerations to make moving money around via releasing, restructuring etc. It might be unreasonable to not add a quality offensive line piece in free agency, but the price at which players like Matt Kahlil and Russell Okung were signing was downright absurd. They exploited a market inefficiency and cashed in big time. Sitting on the sidelines was a wise move by the Big Blue brain trust.
Kudos to Jerry Reese for adding multi-faceted players via free agency. While Brandon Marshall, Rhett Ellison and DJ Fluker are not replacing Ereck Flowers at left tackle, they are subtly addressing the protection and run blocking issues.
Starting with Marshall, he is versatile as a slot receiver as well as a wide-out. He’s also the most physical receiver on the Giants roster since Plaxico Burress. They Giants are overwhelmingly in a three-receiver set on offense, and their personnel in that formation has handicapped them into being quite predictable and ineffective. Marshall should add a big of multiplicity to the both phases of offense that allows the Giants to keep defenses on their toes and not strictly load up to stop pass because they know they cannot be beaten by the run. Like I said before, it isn’t Tyron Smith or Rob Gronkowski in the blocking game but it is a nuanced layer of the offense that might find them trending in the right direction.
Ellison brings a similar offensive multiplicity and a FB/TE. The Giants previously sought a player with that skill set in free agent Will Johnson last season. Health concerns coming off a full-season spent on IR led to the Giants and Johnson parting ways. I’m in favor of having a player with versatility on offense in the backfield and on the line of scrimmage, but if the questions were about health with Johnson I question the signing of Ellison, who spent 2015 on IR with a torn Patellar tendon. The same injury that kept Victor Cruz out of football for nearly two full seasons. You are free to take his offensive output as a Viking last season with a grain of salt; Eli Manning and the 2016 offense is not inspiring aspirations of a Rhett Ellison offensive odyssey.
Lastly is DJ Fluker, a San Diego Chargers offensive lineman cast-off. That statement in itself should scare the shit out of those enamored with a new name at offensive line. San Diego was one of the worse offensive lines in football last season, and maybe part of Fluker becoming a free agent was the $8.821M figure attached to this season. Maybe. There has been situations in the past were quality talent at offensive line has been let go for financial reasons. Just last season Josh Sitton of the Packers was controversially released for cap reasons. He found a home in Chicago and resumed his Pro Bowl level play with the Bears. Now, I am certainly not comparing Fluker to Sitton, but don’t panic by pointing to his dismissal from San Diego’s terrible offensive line room as fully indicative of his ability. The guy is young, tough and talented. At his current price, it’s a solid acquisition by the Giants front office.
These aren’t marquee offensive line acquisitions, but they are moves with a two-pronged effect for an offense that lack any diversity last season. If these are the last free agent acquisitions made with the offensive line in mind before kickoff, I would expect the run blocking and pass protection to improve next season. They certainly won’t be, and through the draft process the Giants will add several contributors with respect to protection and blocking.