Giants' retooled offensive line looks like their best in years

Guard Kevin Zeitler, 29, was a first-round pick by Cincinnati in 2012. Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Dave Gettleman's introductory news conference as New York Giants general manager ended with a definitive statement about a hazardous offensive line.

"We're going to get it fixed," he said just days before the 2017 season finale.

Gettleman tweaked and dumped massive loads of cash into the line last season. The results were mixed, at best. The Giants' offensive line was a mess the first half of the season when quarterback Eli Manning was sacked 31 times. It stabilized in the second half and became a serviceable unit. As did the Giants' offense, centered around running back Saquon Barkley.

The left side of the line was fixed with big-money free-agent left tackle Nate Solder and second-round pick Will Hernandez at guard. The right side remained a work in progress.

So Gettleman went back to work this offseason. He added what the Giants hope will be a new right side of the line with veteran guard Kevin Zeitler being acquired in a trade and tackle Mike Remmers as a free agent.

The bar is low, but this could be the Giants' best offensive line since 2010 or 2012, when they still had core players such has Chris Snee and David Diehl in the lineup. It's not the Super Bowl-winning line of Kareem McKenzie, Snee, Shaun O'Hara, Rich Seubert and Diehl, but this year's hog mollies should be a significant improvement from recent seasons.

"It's the best they've had in years," said one pro personnel scout with an NFC team.

There will be no more excuses for Manning, who hasn't been protected well in years but also hasn't finished with a top 10 QBR since 2012. No more excuses for coach Pat Shurmur, who had a hand in shipping Odell Beckham Jr. out of town. No more excuses for the offense as a whole, which hasn't been good in several seasons.

This year the Giants have $37 million of the $188.2 million salary cap currently committed to their offensive line and 61 percent committed to the offense overall, compared to 38 percent to the defense. It will be on the offense (and the offensive line in particular) to carry the team this season. They're building a team that will be reliant on the run with Barkley as the centerpiece.

"[The improved line] can do big things for that guy we have in our backfield," tight end Evan Engram said last week at CC Sabathia's Celebrity Softball Game benefiting his PitCCh In Foundation. "He's a special talent and those guys, the offensive linemen, they're in the building each and every day and they literally walk around the whole building together. You can see the talent growing. You can see the chemistry growing. And they're hungry as well. I can't wait to see those guys start putting their hands on people."

That is what they're paid handsomely to do. The 37 percent of the Giants' salary cap being used on the line is the most in the past six years.

Solder is to count the most of any offensive tackle in the league this season at $17 million. He's "solid, but unspectacular," according to the scout. Solder had a Pass Block Win Rate (PBWR) of 76 percent last season, when he was Pro Football Focus' 21st-ranked tackle. It's considerably better than what the Giants had been throwing out there in previous years with Ereck Flowers topping out at 74 percent and his misses being glaring whiffs.

Hernandez should improve in his second season at left guard. His 77 percent PBWR was a touch below the league average (78 percent).

At center, the Giants have third-year player Spencer Pulley and Jon Halapio, who began last season as the starter and was their best lineman over the first two weeks -- according to Gettleman -- before breaking his leg. Pulley led all Giants linemen with a PBWR of 80 percent, a smidge above the league average for the position (79 percent).

"Let the best man win," offensive line coach Hal Hunter said. "They both have earned the right to compete for that position."

Zeitler, 29, had an 80 percent PBWR and was PFF's sixth-ranked guard. The scout also puts him in the "solid, but unspectacular" category. He's still a massive upgrade from Patrick Omameh, who started last year and was a disaster with a 61 percent PBWR before being cut midseason. Jamon Brown stabilized the position (71 percent PBWR) but the Giants wanted more.

Hunter recently said it was a priority to address the right side of the line this offseason. They still didn't think it would come in a player of Zeitler's pedigree.

"To get that guy? No," Hunter said. "[Zeitler] was under contract. There weren't that many quality free-agent guards out there. They were talking about whether they were going to sign Jamon Brown back or not sign Jamon Brown back and then all of a sudden to bring a guy like that.

"There are 31 other teams that would like to have him. So, for us to get a quality guy that, I'll tell you what now, and basically everyone in the room knew, within a day every single guy in that lineup called and talked to him and told him how excited they were he was a part of the room."

Remmers, 30, is coming off back surgery but has a track record of being a serviceable tackle. He started at tackle for a Panthers team that reached the Super Bowl with Gettleman at the helm in 2015. He played with Shurmur as his offensive coordinator in Minnesota and had a respectable PBWR of 80 percent (the league average) while playing primarily right tackle in 2017.

Remmers will likely replace Chad Wheeler at right tackle. Wheeler had a PBWR of 66 percent and was ranked 78th out of 80 tackles by PFF last season.

The group isn't young but it's filled with players who have proven capable at the NFL level. That alone makes it one of the best Giants lines in years, though Manning threw caution at that idea on Monday.

"Anything could be," he said. "Could be doesn't help out much. It's a great opportunity for us, and for those guys to play well. I think they will have that opportunity to go out there and do good stuff."

Injuries could be the biggest concern. Solder and Remmers were both on the sideline Monday during the Giants' first organized team activity of the year. Solder is recovering from an ankle cleanup last week. Remmers had back surgery this offseason. Both are expected back for the start of training camp.

If all goes well, the Giants' line should be exponentially improved. It should help Barkley and the immobile Manning, who is 38 years old and was sacked a career high 47 times last season. And it could prove Gettleman right in his assurance that they were going to get that line fixed.