With free agency two weeks old and the NFL draft still 45 days away, here's a position-by-position look at where things stand with the New York Giants' offensive line.
Will Beatty remains the nominal starter, but uncertainty surrounds him for a variety of reasons. The first is the broken leg he suffered in the final game of the 2013 season. His recovery from that injury could delay his availability for the start of training camp and possibly even the regular season. Beatty's injury history is that of an excruciatingly slow healer, and this is a more severe injury than any he's had in his career. Factor in the alarming step back Beatty's performance took in 2013, and the Giants are left to at least consider long-term replacement options as well as short-term ones.
One of those options would be to move second-year tackle Justin Pugh from the right side to the left. But if the Giants did that, they'd want it to be a permanent change for which they were certain Pugh is ready. They wouldn't want to jeopardize his development and/or confidence by asking him to switch sides just until Beatty was healthy. The Giants pointed out last week in their announcement of the John Jerry signing that Jerry has experience at left tackle. But Jerry's been a guard for the past two years in Miami and could be facing a suspension from the league for his role in the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin bullying scandal.
Veteran Geoff Schwartz was signed to play left guard, though he himself pointed out that he's got experience at tackle and he likely wouldn't be as affected by having to switch back and forth as a younger player might. Other options include Brandon Mosley, who's untested, and James Brewer, who's had many tests at the NFL level but hasn't come close to passing any of them. It's easy to see why taking a tackle in the first round of the draft might not be a terrible idea after all.
Schwartz is slated to start. If all goes well elsewhere, he should be a set-it-and-forget-it 16-game starter for the Giants at the position. That's their hope, at least. Brewer and Mosley are the most likely backups here as well, maybe with Dallas Reynolds thrown in there as a possibility.
It appears J.D. Walton is the plan. The Giants guaranteed Walton $2.5 million over his two-year contract in spite of the fact he hasn't played since September 2012 due to an ankle injury, and that he struggled mightily as the Broncos' starting center in 2010 and 2011. They had hoped to bring back Kevin Boothe as a veteran insurance policy in case Walton couldn't handle the job, but Boothe signed with the Raiders. Now, that veteran backup plan could be Reynolds or Jim Cordle or any number of cheap free-agent solutions still floating around out there. The market for centers didn't take off, so there remains a possibility they could snag someone like Ryan Wendell or Brian de la Puente on the cheap yet -- if that's what they want to do. But the sense I have is they plan to give Walton the job in camp and hope he runs with it.
The plan is to bring back Chris Snee for his 11th season and hope he's healthy enough following multiple hip surgeries to be the rock he was for them at right guard prior to 2013. But neither Snee nor the team is certain of his ability to handle this assignment, so a look at the backup options is warranted. Jerry did start at right guard for Miami the past two years, and if he's not hit with a lengthy suspension he could be the answer if Snee can't handle it. Otherwise, see above re: Brewer, Mosley, etc.
I still wonder if there's a chance they could move Pugh to this spot if they drafted an elite, play-right-away tackle in the first round. Pugh was projected as a guard by a lot of scouts prior to the draft. And while the Giants say they like him at tackle, they also were saying last summer that they liked him for his versatility.
Pugh was the 16-game starter in 2013, and in spite of all of the scenarios we've discussed so far, the Giants' hope is that he's the 16-game starter at right tackle again in 2014. The backup plans if he can't handle it are the same as they are in the left tackle blurb (minus Pugh himself). If Beatty is healthy and struggles in camp and Pugh shows continued growth, the Giants obviously could look at switching sides with them as early as this year. They can get out of Beatty's contract with little pain next spring if they need to.
The projected starting five, then, from left to right, is Beatty, Schwartz, Walton, Snee and Pugh. Seems shaky to me, though it's hard to imagine a line playing worse than the Giants' line did in 2013. The concern to me is depth behind the starters, which was nonexistent in 2013. The Giants could justifiably devote two of their first three picks in May's draft to the offensive line and benefit from it down the road. There isn't enough top offensive line talent on their roster to make them feel confident going forward.