5 Best Options for New York Giants to Bolster Guard This Offseason
It’s not hard to make the case that guard was the New York Giants' weakest position in 2013. Six different players filled this crucial interior offensive-line role this past season for Big Blue, and the cumulative Pro Football Focus rating, over a total of 2,076 snaps, was a staggeringly bad minus-50.5.
David Diehl, Kevin Boothe and James Brewer took a majority of those snaps, 1,731 to be exact, and were a major reason for the awful play, with a combined PFF rating of minus-39.7.
The good news is that change appears inevitable, both due to the performance of this season's stable of guards and because Diehl and Boothe are unrestricted free agents. The former may be done playing altogether.
That leaves Brewer as the lone member of 2013’s terrible trio under contract for next season. He is locked up at a reasonable price, but he clearly can’t be depended on as a starter. He couldn’t get on the field during his first two seasons in the NFL and was bad in his 406 snaps at left and right guard in 2013, with a minus-8.3 PFF rating.
There is the lingering prospect that Chris Snee, who was a mainstay at right guard for the Giants from 2004-2012 before playing in only three games this past season due to a hip injury, could return as a healthy starting option. However, the 31-year-old’s bloated salary makes him a potential cap casualty, if he even decides to continue playing.
To be blunt, the Giants will likely need to acquire both a starting left and right guard this offseason through free agency or the draft.
The following five slides will detail the ideal options, at this early juncture, to do just that through both of those avenues. Free agents will be looked at first, followed by draft choices. All options, in each category, are ordered from best to worst.
Before diving in, the Justin Pugh factor needs to be addressed. The Giants' right tackle, who started all 16 games his rookie season and was easily the Giants' best offensive lineman with a 7.1 PFF rating, could be moved over to guard. This is based solely on his scouting report prior to the draft that deems him a good guard prospect, due to his short arm length and slender build.
Pugh is willing to make a move, per a report by Dan Benton of Giants 101, but the Giants have made no indication that this is what they want to do. In reality, it is a risky choice to make. Moving Pugh would force him to learn another new position (he played left tackle in college) and also open up a hole at right tackle.
The Giants are better off leaving Pugh alone.
Free Agency: Jon Asamoah, Kansas City Chiefs
The unrestricted free-agent pool at guard is not deep this offseason, making Jon Asamoah easily the best option available.
The 25-year-old was a solid, durable option in 2011 and 2012. He logged over 1,000 snaps in each of those seasons and posted PFF ratings of 8.9 in 2011 and 15.0 in 2012. Asamoah was solid again in 2013, with a 6.6 rating but logged only 682 snaps, playoffs included, due to a nagging shoulder injury.
Despite his health issues this past season, no one in this guard free-agent class possesses the combination of youth, performance and durability that Asamoah provides.
His current team, the Kansas City Chiefs, would likely love to retain him, but its cap situation will make it difficult. According to OvertheCap.com, the Chiefs are only about $6 million under the projected $126.3 million cap.
Conversely, the Giants are currently about $11 million below this threshold, according to OvertheCap.com. Of course, both teams can open up more cap room in the coming months through player cuts as well as salary reductions and restructures.
Based on pure speculation, Asamoah should get close to the six-year, $46.8 million contract, with $13 million guaranteed, that the top free-agent guard in 2013, Andy Levitre, received from the Tennessee Titans.
Levitre is more durable, with 80 straight games started and modestly better (three straight seasons with a PFF rating north of 10). Asamoah, though, is a year younger than Levitre was when he entered free agency.
Given the dire situation at guard for Big Blue, they should feel comfortable offering a proven commodity like Asamoah a five- or six-year deal worth $6 to $7 million per year, with around $10 million guaranteed.
Free Agency: John Jerry, Miami Dolphins
If the Giants don’t want to make a significant financial investment in a guard who can start for them over the next half-decade, John Jerry is the first of two lower-cost, shorter-term options.
The four-year pro will only be 28 at the beginning of next season and started every game at right guard for the Miami Dolphins in 2012 and 2013. His overall performance wasn’t great, with a minus-2.7 PFF rating in 2012 and minus-2.9 rating in 2013. However, it is significantly better than the woeful minus-26.5 PFF rating Diehl provided in only 11 games at right guard for Big Blue this past season.
Also, Jerry is a solid pass-blocker, with a 6.8 rating in this area in 2013 and 3.8 rating the previous year. This aspect of his play is important considering he’ll be protecting a franchise quarterback in Eli Manning, who is headed toward the back end of his career, if he were to come to New York.
While Jerry is more durable, he won’t command the years or dollars Asamoah should, given his age and inferior production. However, he could be a stellar, dependable player for the Giants over the next two to three seasons. Also, a return to the Dolphins is definitely far from a sure thing, likely making him readily available.
One important note, though, on Jerry. He has a history of weight issues, which hasn’t affected his health at the NFL level yet but could as he gets older. This is something the Giants must factor in if they want to offer him a contract longer than two years.
Free Agency: Chad Rinehart, San Diego Chargers
Chad Rinehart is another good stopgap, but one who provides higher upside, yet more risk, than Jerry.
The upside is clear, as Rinehart put up an excellent 16.1 PFF rating in 2011 over 868 snaps with the Buffalo Bills. This season, he had an acceptable minus-0.1 PFF rating in 743 snaps, including the playoffs, with the San Diego Chargers. In part-time duty in 2009, 2010 and 2012 with the Bills and Washington Redskins, his PFF rating was higher than one in each of those seasons.
He also has experience playing both left and right guard, giving him a versatility edge over Jerry.
However, Rinehart is a year older and also more injury-prone. He missed five games this season with a foot injury and the second half of 2012 due to calf and ankle issues.
Since injuries riddled the Giants in 2013, especially on the offensive line where Snee and Diehl, as well as centers David Baas and Jim Cordle, all missed significant time, they may be hesitant to sign a player nearing 30 who has struggled to stay on the field each of the last two years.
If they are willing to take the risk, though, they will be getting a starting-caliber player who can handle both guard positions.
Draft: Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA
The Giants will be picking 12th in the first round of the NFL draft, which will start May 8 of this year. While things may certainly change in the coming months, right now there isn’t a guard worthy of being selected in the top half of Round 1, according to CBSSports.com.
Therefore, Big Blue is better off addressing another position in this slot with their first pick. This leaves the second round as the Giants' first true opportunity, as it stands now, to draft a guard.
They would be wise to grab Xavier Su’a-Filo, if he is available, with the 43rd pick.
The junior out of UCLA, who declared for the draft on Jan. 4, possesses great athleticism and would fit well in a zone-blocking scheme (though UCLA uses a drive-blocking scheme). This is the scheme the Giants predominantly used under former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, though it could change with his replacement.
Su’a-Filo is particularly impressive as a pass-blocker, where he anchors well and gets great leverage. He is also durable, having started all 38 games in his three-year college career.
Right now, according to NFLDraftScout.com, he is projected to go in the early-to-mid second round. I have a hunch, however, he will impress teams enough over the next four months to move into the late first round.
If that is the case, New York will need to strongly consider the next best draft option to Su’a-Filo.
Draft: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
Gabe Jackson and Su’a-Filo both stand 6’3”, but Jackson significantly outweighs him at 340 pounds, compared to 305 pounds for Su’a-Filo.
Despite Jackson being a larger man, he moves very well for his size. Again, if the Giants stay with a zone-blocking scheme, he would be ideal. He is nimble enough laterally, and to the second level, to handle the demands of this movement-heavy scheme. His size, though, would be an additional asset and bring some much-needed toughness to an offensive line that was pushed around frequently in 2013.
Jackson, like Su’a-Filo, is also dependable, having started every game his last three years at Mississippi State after redshirting his freshman season.
He is a late second-round, early third-round pick as of now, so he should still be available for the Giants to select at 43, even if he impresses in the pre-draft workouts and buildup.
Su’a-Filo is more fluid and polished at this stage, but Jackson may have more upside, simply given his girth.
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