In recent years, the New York Giants' strategy on the offensive line has been to kind of get by. They have managed to succeed without making the line one of their high-priority elements, trusting quarterback Eli Manning to help out his line with his quick release, his daring and his decision-making. Their heaviest investment on the line has been in right guard Chris Snee, a 31-year-old former second-round pick who's entering the fifth year of a six-year, $43.5 million contract. Their center, David Baas, was a free-agent signing two years ago but is also 31 and hasn't lived up to billing. Though both Baas and Snee were very high second-round picks, the Giants do not have a first-round offensive lineman on the roster.
This is why Giants fans should welcome Wednesday's news that left tackle Will Beatty signed a five-year deal with the team before he had a chance to hit the open market. Not because Beatty is the second coming of Jonathan Ogden, but because of what it says about the Giants' current priorities. For some time, they have needed to get younger on the line -- to commit to a plan for their offensive line in the next several years while Manning is still in his prime and they retain a strong chance to be perennial playoff contenders. Other than signing Baas, they haven't done much to indicate they view this as a big deal. Until Wednesday, that is, when they committed to Beatty as their franchise left tackle and sent a clear signal that the offensive line ranks among their top offseason priorities.
It simply has to. Left guard Kevin Boothe -- a former sixth-round pick and waiver pickup -- is eligible for unrestricted free agency. They'll probably re-sign him, but if they don't, they have a hole to fill there. Baas hasn't played up to expectations in his two years in New York. Long one of the best in the league at his position, Snee has shown understandable signs of wear and decline the past two seasons. And their right tackle right now is David Diehl, a decorated veteran who's tough and versatile and devoted to the team but turns 33 in September and didn't play well last year. Diehl could be a salary-cap cut, which would leave right tackle in the shaky hands of James Brewer, a 2011 fourth-round pick who also may be their backup left guard option if Boothe leaves.
Giants GM Jerry Reese may not view every one of these items as pressing 2013 issues. But each is at least a sign of an issue to come. And taken together, they represent an issue Reese has no choice but to address if he intends to keep Manning upright through his early 30s. So the Beatty deal became a smart and essential first step in the Giants' offseason program. That line needs a long-term anchor, and Beatty right now looks like the best bet. A late-second-round pick in 2009, Beatty showed in 2012 that he could play like a franchise left tackle. The Giants will now work to make sure he continues to develop along those lines, stays healthy and establishes the year-to-year consistency that will make this deal look good.
But it has to be the first step in the Giants' offensive line plan. They need to get another player or two whom they can set along a similar developmental track as a long-term piece of reliable furniture. Maybe they draft someone in the first round. Maybe they make a big play for a young stud free agent like an Andre Smith or a Louis Vasquez, or a potential up-and-comer like a Donald Thomas. Who knows? Maybe Brewer progresses as Beatty did and they have a couple of bookend tackles in a couple of years that they drafted and developed themselves.
Whatever the answers end up being for the Giants on the offensive line, they're going to have to find them. Sooner or later, they're not going to be able to get by with midround picks and aging veterans. It has worked for them to this point, yes, but there are too many question marks, present and future, on the line to keep ignoring. That's why the best part of the Beatty deal for Giants fans is that it may just signal a crucial and overdue shift in priorities.