Out of all the areas on the Giants roster that need work this offseason, perhaps none is as important as the development of the offensive line. Currently, the Giants have questions to answer at every single position in front of quarterback Eli Manning, which could make patching together a respectable group of linemen a precarious proposition this offseason. With limited salary cap space, two impending free-agents in left tackle Will Beatty and left guard Kevin Boothe and question marks at a number of other positions, Jerry Reese and Co. have a monumental task before them this offseason.
The Giants can't afford to let either Beatty or Boothe get away in free agency once the league year begins on March 12th. Unless the team has confidence that James Brewer, Brandon Mosely, Jim Cordle or Matt McCants can step in and contribute next season, there are very few realistic, NFL ready prospects in the draft that will be available at No. 19 this April. Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, Chance Wormack and Lane Johnson all have the ability to become top-15 picks. Unless the Giants are willing to trade up, there will not be value along the offensive line at No.19. It's entirely possible a second or third-round pick is ready to start immediately, but that's not something the team can rely on.
Let's take a look at each contributing member of the offensive line in 2012, and examine their situation heading into 2013.
As stated above, Will Beatty is a free agent this offseason and will be able to field offers from any team in the league. As a left tackle who has the potential to improve over the next few years, the Giants need to sign him to ensure any semblance of an effective offensive line next season. Beatty has a 6'6" and 319 pound frame and showed improved technique last season. Quality left tackle's don't come around very often in the NFL and the Giants have one in Beatty.
That said, the team needs to have a limit on how much they are going to pay him. Obviously, the Giants are tight on salary cap room and will not be able to give him a mega-contract, regardless of their desire to keep him. However, more than that, it's important to realize the Beatty is 28 years old. Similar to running backs, offensive linemen tend to physically regress around the age of 30. That mean's that if the team signs Beatty to a four or five year contract, the latter half of that deal will be for a player on the downside of his career. Unless Beatty's deal is cap friendly in the final two years of the contract, the Giants must be wary of how much money they give him.
Kevin Boothe is a free-agent as well. Boothe, while coming into the season as nothing more than a career backup, proved in 2013 that he has the strength and versatility to play on the interior. Due to his position, Boothe was easily the most overlooked pleasant surprise of Big Blue's 2012 campaign. Although the team had issues along the offensive line at times, Boothe was never one of them.
Unless the team is ready to let Jim Cordle step in, Boothe is practically irreplaceable. He understands the offense, the blocking schemes and provides solid play. He's going to be 30 next season, so it will be risky to bring Boothe back on a multi-year deal. However, at the right price, it's a risk the Giants may be forced to take.
David Baas has not lived up to his 5 year/ $27.5 million contract that he signed before the 2011 season. The Giants don't have a viable replacement on the roster for him, so he likely gets to stay in the roster in 2013. Furthermore, Baas' $6.725 million salary is almost fully guaranteed next season, so he's not going anywhere regardless. However, while many make Baas' performance over the last two years sound like it's been a train wreck, it just hasn't been that.
When he can actually get in the game, Baas is a reliable center in the NFL. He's had health issues in the past that have derailed his play; however, he was the starting center on a Super Bowl championship squad. The Giants can win with him. He just needs to find a way to stay healthy and continue to master the blocking schemes. Easier said than done, but the Giants don't have a choice other than stick with Baas' in 2013.
Chris Snee is 31 years old and it's clear his play has been in decline for the last several seasons. Snee has even admitted this, as it's impossible for his body to do the same things it was able to do during the early years of his career. Although Snee's current production is nowhere near worthy of his $8.79 million cap hit next season, the Giants have their hands tied at right guard as well.
Snee is still capable of playing productively in the NFL. If he can get healthy over the offseason, he will probably remain one of the best players on the offensive line in 2013. If the Giants can restructure his contract and shave a few million of his salary, that would be ideal. However, Snee would have all the leverage in those talks and it's unlikely he would surrender very much. This is a contract the team will have to sit on until Brandon Mosley is ready, or the team acquires another replacement.
David Diehl was a train wreck last season. He has been an integral aspect of two Super Bowl championship squads and has been (for the most part) a model professional athlete for the duration of his career. However, he proved in 2013 that he is no longer capable of keeping up with the top defensive ends in the NFL.
Currently, Diehl stands to count $7.45 million against the 2013 salary cap. It would cost the team $3 million of dead money to cut him, which makes it easy for both the team and the player to find some middle ground. If Diehl refuses to restructure, there is no question he has to go. The Giants can not afford to pay a backup caliber player that kind of money. However, if the Giants can pay Diehl negotiate Diehl's cap hit to the neighborhood of $4 million, it could make sense for the team to keep him around. He still provides versatility, leadership and an advanced knowledge of the offense. As a backup, Diehl still has value.
Almost certain to be gone. After suffering a serious knee injury, Locklear will have a tough time finding a contract at 32 years old this offseason. If the Giants find a viable replacement for Diehl at right tackle, there will not be room on the roster for Locklear.
The Giants are stuck at a lot of positions on the offensive line. Chris Snee and David Baas have injury issues, but their contract will not allow them to be moved anywhere. Will Beatty and Kevin Boothe have a lot of leverage in their negotiations this offseason, while the team still has no answer at right tackle. The Giants aren't in trouble, but unless one of the younger developmental projects in Brewer, Cordle, Mosley and McCants begin to payoff, the team has more questions than answers in the trenches heading into free agency.
Also…Brandon Mosley, Chris Snee, David Baas, David Diehl, Eli Manning, Football, free agent, Jim Cordle, Kevin Boothe, Lane Johnson, Matt McCants, New York, New York Giants, NFL, Will Beatty