The New York Giants‘ offensive line, one of the worst graded units in all of football a season ago, is riddled with uncertainty as we inch closer to free agency. A youth movement upfront has clouded the futures of veteran mainstays Nate Solder, Kevin Zeitler and Will Hernandez. With cap casualty on the horizon, there’s a chance that all three players have already played their final snap in a Giants uniform.
Strapped for cash, New York could save $6 million by cutting Solder – a potentially feasible decision depending on how the team feels about 2020 third-round pick Matt Peart. As for Zeitler, releasing or trading the soon-to-be 31-year-old would yield essentially double the amount in savings as Solder would. However, that decision would leave a glaring hole next to center Nick Gates at right guard, one that Hernandez and/or Shane Lemieux may prove incapable of filling adequately.
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Joe Thuney Labeled ‘The Ideal Target’ for Giants in Free Agency
Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox believes the team could quickly solve their guard conundrum this offseason by using that extra spending money from cutting Solder and/or Zeitler to splurge on Patriots standout Joe Thuney.
If the Giants do generate some much-needed cap room, Patriots guard Joe Thuney could be the perfect free-agent target. He has also played tackle in New England and played at least 97 percent of the offensive snaps in each of his five pro campaigns. He allowed just two sacks over 980 snaps this past season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Adding the 28-year-old Thuney could help bolster the Giants line for the long term. This would be a major benefit as the Giants look to develop, protect and/or determine the future of quarterback Daniel Jones. To this point, protection has been an issue for the third-year pro, who has taken 83 sacks in his 27 NFL games.
Labeled as Pro Football Focus‘ 13th best impending free agent, Thuney won’t come cheap on the open market, nor should he. The former second-team All-Pro selection earned an 88.0 pass-blocking grade in 2019, ranking ranked third among all guards. His position flexibility as a serviceable tackle only adds to his potential earnings. PFF predicts Thurney will net a four-year, $57 million deal in free agency with $35 million guaranteed.
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The Giants-Patriots Pipeline
The Thuney-Giants talks have picked up steam of late, and on the surface, it seems like an ideal addition for Big Blue. As FanSided’s Matt Lombardo recently noted, “The New England Patriots-to-Giants pipeline is well-worn at this point, and Joe Judge’s presence as head coach makes New York a fit for Thuney.”
Thuney and Judge spent four seasons in Foxborough together until the latter landed the Giants head coaching job last offseason. Furthermore, New York’s current regime leaned on previous coach-players relationships heavily when filling roster voids last season with names such as Adrian Colbert, Ryan Lewis and Trent Harris quickly jumping to mind.
With that said, it’s one thing to fill a bottom of the roster need with a player who is familiar with your system. It’s a whole other animal to commit likely north of $35 million to a player who has produced extremely similar to that of the player he would be replacing.
While age is undoubtedly on Thuney’s side, he and Zeitler’s on-field performance have been relatively comparable. In fact, Zeitler’s overall PFF average over the past five seasons (75.20) is 2.26 greater than that of Thuney’s (72.94).
Lombardo also floated the idea of retaining Zeitler and having Thuney take over for Shane Lemieux at the other guard spot. While the Giants are clearly high on Lemieux, his fanfare did outweigh his actual play down the stretch last season.
If the NY Giants are not sold on Lemieux developing into a long-term solution at guard (and at this stage, why would they be?), Thuney makes some sense.
In reality, keeping Zeitler and adding Thuney would be greatly difficult for New York to pull off. The Giants have glaring holes littered throughout their roster, and while protecting Daniel Jones is a main priority for the organization, so is supplying their quarterback with weapons. Add in the fact that the team is hopeful they can retain free agents Dalvin Tomlinson and Leonard Williams, and Thuney may simply prove too much of a luxury signing the way the roster is currently constructed.
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