INDIANAPOLIS — We’re just days away from general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur taking their bulldozers to the New York Giants’ offensive line. When they’re done it will barely resemble the unit that took the field to start last season.
The first move when free agency opens on March 14 could be signing Carolina Panthers guard Andrew Norwell. It won’t be easy — there will be competition — and it won’t be cheap, but the feeling around the league is that it will happen.
“Gettleman loves Norwell,” according to one source.
Gettleman signed the All-Pro guard as an undrafted free agent in 2014 with the Carolina Panthers. Four years later, there is a growing sense they will be reunited. The belief is that offers to Norwell could be in the range of $13 million per year with total guarantees over $30 million, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the guard market.
It is further proof that guards don’t come cheap. Just last year the Cleveland Browns paid Kevin Zeitler $60 million over five years. That is $12 million per season.
Norwell should get more. The NFL’s salary cap is expected to increase another six percent this year. Zeitler’s $12 million last season will probably have to be closer to $13 million this year, and Norwell might even be considered a better player.
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These exorbitant numbers are normally reserved for left tackles. Only four offensive tackles average more than $12 million per season on their current deals. No right tackle averages $12 million.
Norwell is believed to be the best of the bunch at guard this offseason. He’s known as a mauling run blocker and solid pass-blocker. His 88.8 Pro Football grade was third among all guards.
“He’s really, really good,” according to one scout. “He even moves better than you’d think.”
Another personnel evaluator wasn’t quite as sold. He called Norwell “OK” but conceded he would be extremely well compensated as the best available option in a weak offensive line class.
Giants guard/tackle Justin Pugh may be the second-best option as a free agent guard.
This is where the NFL stands. Quality offensive linemen are hard to find. They’re even rarer on the free-agent market. And with interior rushers such as Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox, Calais Campbell and Gerald McCoy consistently pummeling quarterbacks on the inside, quality guards can command major paydays.
That bodes well for Norwell and Pugh. It even means the next tier of players such as Tennessee’s Josh Kline, Indianapolis’ Jack Mewhort, Josh Sitton and the Giants’ D.J. Fluker should do well.
Guards are a valuable commodity these days, and the Giants are committed to finding upgrades this offseason. Gettleman seems intent on improving the interior of the Giants’ offensive line. He noted last week that the New Orleans Saints had a dominant guard tandem during their Super Bowl run several years back and again last year during their resurgence.
The Giants are hoping to replicate that approach. But with veterans John Jerry (known as a better pass-blocker than run blocker) and John Greco the only guards under contract, there is plenty of work to be done.
Improving the running game and offensive line is a priority for Gettleman this offseason. He appears set to start at the guard position, with Norwell the intended target at a hefty price.
“At the end of the day, if it’s keeping your quarterback upright and out of the hospital, there are a bunch of guys that are getting paid. They are getting paid,” Gettleman said last week. “If you think about it, they’re close to the quarterback and whatever.”
Price be damned. Is $12-$13 million too much for a guard?
“Listen, it’s the market. Is that car worth $150,000?” Gettleman asked rhetorically. “If somebody buys it, it’s worth it. You know what I mean? It’s no different.”
Whether Pugh fits into the mix as well remains more of a mystery. It would be difficult for the Giants to afford two high-priced guards. Pugh is more likely being viewed as a contingency plan if they don’t land Norwell or a right tackle option. Regardless, Pugh is expected to do well on the market. There will be plenty of interest, and there’s a good chance he will top $10 million per season.
He’s just not likely do as well as Norwell, who is 26 and coming off his best professional season at exactly the right time. He was named an All-Pro right before free agency in a year when his former boss is in a new job and looking for a player of his caliber at his position.
Consider it the perfect free-agent guard storm, one that should make him a very rich man wherever he lands.