New Giants GM Dave Gettleman lamented last week how difficult it is to find linebackers in the college draft, since so many of the best ones line up at other positions like safety or defensive end.
So he went and found a linebacker in the NFL instead.
Gettleman gave the Giants a much-needed boost at the linebacker position on Wednesday when he officially acquired Alec Ogletree in a trade with the Los Angeles Rams. The Giants will send a fourth and sixth-round pick in this year's NFL draft to L.A. in return for the 26-year-old inside linebacker and the Rams' seventh-round pick in 2019.
"We're very excited to have made the trade for Alec," Gettleman said in a statement. "He gives us our defensive quarterback. He was a two-time captain with the Rams, voted on by his teammates. He's a leader, and that's very important to us. Just as important, he's a quality three-down MIKE linebacker. We're just thrilled to have him."
The fourth-rounder the Giants are giving up is their "comp pick" in this year's draft -- 135th overall. And the trade will be official when the new league year starts on March 14.
And just like that, Gettleman paid the kind of attention to the Giants' linebacker spot that has been lacking for more than a decade. They haven't sent a linebacker to the Pro Bowl since Antonio Pierce in 2006, and really haven't had one close since.
Gettleman knew he had to find linebackers, though, because the Giants are going to transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator James Bettcher. But as he said at the NFL scouting combine last week, finding qualified linebackers coming out of college isn't easy.
"I's hard because there's all these kind of bastardized linebackers that do funky things," Gettleman said. "What it comes down to with a linebacker is: Is he instinctive? Can he run? Is he athletic? Is he smart? That's really what it is."
Apparently the 6-2, 235-pound Ogletree was all that and more to Gettleman. He had been one of the Rams' best defensive players and a two-time team captain. He had 95 tackles, two sacks and one interception (which he returned for a touchdown) last season. And last October, he signed a four-year, $42 million contract extension with the Rams that included $21 million guaranteed and a $7 million roster bonus that is due later this month.
Ogletree carries a $10 million cap hit for 2018 (according to overthecap.com) - a hefty price considering the Giants were only projected to have about $24 million in space under $177.2 million NFL salary cap when the free-agent market opens on March 14. The Giants will likely do some simple cap maneuvering to reduce his cap hit to $4.75 million, which they can do by converting his roster bonus to a signing bonus. That should still leave them enough room to make their expected run at free-agent guard Andrew Norwell, who figures to command a deal worth $12 million per year.
The Giants' pursuit of Ogletree, though, was a long time coming. They were actually interested in him as far back as 2013, when he was coming out of Georgia as one of the top linebackers in the draft. He had some injury issues and character concerns (a suspension for violating team rules) in college that worried some teams. But he was in the conversation when the Giants picked 19th that year, according to a team source.
They picked offensive lineman Justin Pugh instead, leaving Ogletree to fall to the Rams at No. 30.
This move is huge for a Giants linebacker corps that was filled with uncertainty, and not just because of the switch to a 3-4. Both Jonathan Casillas and Devon Kennard are unrestricted free agents, with Casillas unlikely to re-sign. And there's been no indication the Giants are close to a reunion with Kennard. Middle linebacker B.J. Goodson has suffered through a myriad of injuries during his first two NFL seasons, and veterans Kelvin Sheppard and Keenan Robinson are unrestricted free agents, too.
That's why the Giants were so willing to pay a pretty high price. They needed an influx of youth and speed to their defense, especially in the middle of the field, as well as a linebacker with experience in the 3-4. The move shows Gettleman is serious about rebuilding the Giants this offseason, and fixing areas that have been problems for them for years.
It also shows he's serious about giving players clean slates, because Ogletree is familiar to the Giants for more than just his play. In a late-December game in St. Louis in 2014, he famously ignited a wild brawl when he delivered a late hit to Giants receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. driving him to the ground out of bounds and taking a swipe at his head after the play.
The NFL ended up handing out more than $100,000 in fines to Giants and Rams players, though Ogletree only got slapped with a fine of $8,268 for a late hit.