The offensive line is young, says the general manager.
“And they’re talented, and things take time,’’ Giants GM Dave Gettleman said Tuesday.
Well, the Giants’ offensive line is not so young if Kevin Zeitler, who turned 31 on Monday, returns to start at right guard and Nate Solder, who will turn 33 next month, returns to play one of the tackle spots after opting out of the 2020 season.
So, maybe Zeitler and Solder won’t be part of the plan for this season.
“I’m not implying that at all,’’ Gettleman said.
The status of the offensive line is tied to Gettleman like a smartphone to a teenager. He promised to fix it when he was hired in December 2017. Strides were made and improvements are evident. Fixed? No way. Not quite yet.
Gettleman labeled his offensive line as young because, he explained, “when your center and your left guard and your left tackle are rookies, basically, you’re young.’’ This was the case in 2020, when the starting left tackle, Andrew Thomas, was a rookie, the starting center, Nick Gates, was an inexperienced third-year player working at center for the first time and the left guard, Shane Lemieux, was a rookie who moved into the starting lineup at the expense of Will Hernandez, who was essentially benched in the second half of the season.
The Giants will get younger on the line if Matt Peart moves in. Peart, a 2020 third-round draft pick out of Connecticut, played in 11 games as a rookie, making one start, and ended up with 150 snaps, or 14.8 percent of the offensive snaps, often filling in for a series or two for veteran Cam Fleming at right tackle.
Gettleman said “I am, yes’’ when asked if he would be comfortable with Thomas and Peart, a pair of second-year players, as the starting tackles this season.
“When [Peart] played, he played fine, he played pretty damn well,’’ Gettleman said. “At some point in time you’ve got to let the young kids play.’’
This could be a foreboding situation for Solder. He is a cancer survivor and his young son is undergoing cancer treatment, which is why he chose to opt out in 2020 rather than play amid a global pandemic and COVID-19 concerns. Solder is scheduled to count $16.5 million on the salary cap. Releasing him would save the Giants $6 million on the cap, but also would cost $10.5 million in dead money.
The Giants do not yet know if Solder wants to continue his career. What seems certain is he will not be on the roster at his current price tag.
“Look, I’m not gonna speak for Nate,’’ head coach Joe Judge said. “I have talked to Nate and, to be honest with you, the majority of our conversations have actually had nothing to do with football. I’ve talked a good bit with Nate since the end of the season, just checked up with him in terms of how the year off went, how his family is doing, how his son’s doing and how he’s doing personally. Had a lot of conversations, talked some football. … There’s other areas of our building as well that are in conversations with Nate. When the time comes to address all that, we’ll know. These things don’t all happen in one day and we’ll see where everything goes.’’
Zeitler is a sturdy pro who rarely misses a snap, but has not been selected for a Pro Bowl in his nine-year career. He is the most consistent offensive lineman on the team and is scheduled to count $14.5 million on the salary cap. Releasing him, which could happen, would save the Giants $12 million.
One way to mitigate Zeitler’s cap hit is to extend his contract, giving him prorated bonus money to lower his 2021 cap number. It does not sound as if Gettleman believes this is a smart approach with any player.
“The goal to best manage the cap is to get flat contracts,’’ Gettleman said. “If a guy has a three-year deal at $45 million you’d like to have a $15 million cap number every year, that’s the goal. Once you start restructuring and renegotiating you usually back-end load them. What you’re doing is you’re kicking the can. It depends upon how much pain you want to deal with. Some teams philosophically just say the heck with it, they restructure and some people don’t. It’s a philosophical conversation but it’s not a good place to get to, to constantly restructure and renegotiate.’’