It didn’t take long for the depth along the interior of the New York Giants’ offensive line to take a hit once 2023 NFL free agency kicked off on Monday, March 13.
To make matters worse, the Giants saw one of their key linemen leave for an NFC East rival, when the Washington Commanders signed Nick Gates to a three-year deal, per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo: “Three years, $16.5 million with another $1.5 million for a max value of $18 million for Nick Gates with the #Commanders. Gets $8 million guaranteed.”
As Garafolo pointed out, Gates suffered a near career-ending injury against Washington in 2021. Now he’ll get the chance to start for the team the Giants pipped to the playoffs in 2022.
Popular Giant Has Chance to Revive Career Within the Division
Gates was well-liked during his time as a member of Big Blue, with Dan Duggan of The Athletic calling him “one of the best guys to pass through the locker room during my time on the beat.”
Part of the respect Gates earned came from his miraculous comeback after breaking his tibia and fibia against Washington in Week 2 of the 2021 season. Seven surgeries before Gates made it back onto the field to start seven games for the Giants last season, making him arguably more deserving of winning the 2022 AP Comeback Player of the Year award than teammate running back Saquon Barkley.
While he was more of a depth body and swing player along the interior, Gates will get the chance to revert to his natural position with the Commanders, per ESPN’s Jordan Raanan:
Gates has the ability to be a more than competent pivotman for Washington. He had made the position his own with the Giants, having “started 17 consecutive games at center” before his injury, according to Michael Eisen of Giants.com.
Even though he hadn’t quite worked his way back to starting status last season, the Giants are sure to miss Gates’ bulk and versatility at the heart of the trenches.
Giants Have Lost Valuable Lineman
What made Gates still so valuable to the Giants was his ability to play multiple spots across the front five. Specifically, he lined up over the ball and also slid along to operate at left guard.
At 6-foot-6 and 318 pounds, Gates also offered enviable size to anchor an offensive line. He’s a mauler who can put defenders on skates in the running game, like he did to spring Barkley for a long touchdown run against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 16, a play highlighted by Nick Falato of SB Nation’s Big Blue View:
This kind of power to clear rushing lanes will be missed almost as much as Gates’ level of flexibility. The latter trait was an invaluable quality, especially since fellow center Jon Feliciano is also among the Giants’ free agents, and Raanan reported “the Giants plan to monitor the markets” for both Feliciano and Gates.
General manager Joe Schoen wants to beef up both the offensive and defensive fronts this offseason. His immediate focus will be adding depth, a plan that’s already taken a hit with Gates finding a new home within the division.
Gates’ defection to Washington is also another strike in a rivalry that saw the Giants finish one game ahead of the Commanders after settling for a 20-20 tie at MetLife Stadium, before winning 20-12 at FedEX Field in Week 15.