Dave Gettleman made it clear that one of his top priorities in rebuilding the Giants is to fix the broken offensive line. He told that to the coaches he interviewed too.
And "as soon as he said, 'Everything starts with the offensive line,'" that's the moment Pat Shurmur said he was sold.
So now that Gettleman and Shurmur have bonded over their top priority, and their love of "hog mollies" (big linemen), the questions is: How do they get this mess of a line fixed? The Giants' offensive line has been a disaster for years, crumbling under the weight of neglect and poor draft picks. Former GM Jerry Reese left them with almost nothing to work with. It's likely four or even five of the starters on the line next season will be new.
It seems like a daunting task, but both Gettleman and Shurmur believe a quick fix is possible. In fact, Shurmur saw how quickly a line can be fixed in Minnesota last year.
In 2016, injuries and other problems along the line caused the Vikings to collapse after a 5-0 start as they stumbled to an 8-8 finish. So, the following offseason they made that a priority in free agency - something the Giants haven't done in years. They signed Riley Reiff to a five-year, $58.75 million contract (with $26.3 million guaranteed) to be their left tackle. Then, they signed Mike Remmers to a five-year, $30 million deal (with $10.5 million guaranteed) to be their right tackle.
And they weren't done. In the draft, the Vikings traded up - another thing the Giants have rarely done - sending an extra fifth-round pick to the Jets to move up nine spots in the third round to grab Ohio State's Pat Elfein, who immediately became their starting center. And those three complemented two returning players - former undrafted free agent Nick Easton, who earned the starting left guard job, and veteran Joe Berger, who returned as the starting right guard.
The result was an offensive line that powered the NFL's seventh-ranked rushing attack and gave up 27 sacks - the seventh-lowest total in the league. That was a huge reason why a Vikings team led by a journeyman quarterback in Case Keenum (who got the job due to injuries to Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford), and that lost it's starting running back (rookie Dalvin Cook) was able to go 13-3, and reach the NFC championship game.
"I think it's very important, no matter how good your offensive line is and your defensive line, you have to address those issues constantly because if you can't block them and you can't pressure the quarterback, this game gets really, really, really hard," Shurmur said. "I know that about Dave. I know we have a serious mindset when it comes to doing what we can to upgrade in those areas. And some of it may be just inspiring a player on the roster to play better than he's played, you know, and that comes back to coaching. And then we all know that every once in a while, you need to get some new players."
Along the offensive line in particular, the Giants will undoubtedly need many new players. Guard Justin Pugh and center Weston Richburg are both scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in March, and unless their price is low, it seems unlikely they'll be resigned. Gettleman already cut former starting right tackle Bobby Hart in Week 17 over his attitude issues, and left tackle Ereck Flowers was put on notice when he was benched for similar reasons in the same game. Given his struggles so far in his career, Flowers' roster spot under a new GM may not be as secure as it usually would be for a former Top 10 pick.
The Giants do have veteran John Jerry under contract for two more seasons, but his $3.3 million price tag for 2018 might be too much. And they did get a fine performance from Brett Jones at center after Richburg suffered his season-ending concussion last season, but the Giants could look for an upgrade there, too.
That's a lot of potential replacements that they'll need, especially since Reese did not leave them with a stable of young offensive linemen ready to fill in. Most likely the Giants will dip into free agency for help - likely starting with Panthers guard Andrew Norwell, who came into the league as an undrafted free agent when Gettleman was the GM there, and turned into a four-year starter and an all-pro. He likely won't be the only free agent the Giants pursue, either. And there almost certainly will be multiple offensive linemen added in the draft, too.
What the Giants learned from Gettleman's first tenure with the team, though, is that good offensive linemen can come from anywhere. Their great line in 2007 was a mix of a big-money free agent (Kareem McKenzie), a mid-level free agent (Shaun O'Hara), a high draft pick (second-rounder Chris Snee), a low draft pick (fifth-rounder David Diehl) and an undrafted free agent (Rich Seubert).
So, it doesn't matter where the Giants find them. But both Gettleman and Shurmur know they need to find those "hog mollies" somewhere if they want to build the Giants right.
"The style of the game has evolved over the years," Gettleman said. "There are basic truths and basic facts that don't change and you have to do. You have to run the ball, you have to stop the run, and you have to rush the passer. Pat and I completely agree on that. The other thing is that big men allow you to compete. I've built teams from the inside out. Obviously the quarterback position is critical but I'm just dropping straight philosophy here and how you approach it. Those are the things that Pat and I completely agree on."
That's what Shurmur told the Giants during his interview, too.
"When he said, 'You have to be able to block them,' that's something that hit home with me," Mara said. "Obviously, we've had our issues there."
And obviously, that's the first thing that Gettleman and Shurmur are going to try to change.