Report: 49ers linked to top free agent offensive lineman Andrew Norwell

Report: 49ers linked to top free agent offensive lineman Andrew Norwell
Giants offensive line Plan B: Free agents after losing Andrew Norwell, Weston Richburg
If there was one move that everyone expected to go down in 2018 NFL free agency, it was probably the New York Giants landing offensive guard Andrew Norwell.

It just made too much sense. With new coach Pat Shurmur wanting Eli Manning to stick around as his starting quarterback at least through 2018, and the Giants in prime draft-day position with a top-five pick and new general manager Dave Gettleman touting a strong connection to Norwell from his time with the Carolina Panthers, filling the teams biggest need — in the trenches — seemed like a piece of cake.

Coming out of Ohio State as an undrafted free agent, he slowly earned his stripes and became a pivotal player on Carolinas offensive line. Norwell hasnt missed a game since the 2015 season, and was voted to the Pro Bowl for his dominant effort in 2017. His breakout season came at the perfect time, and gave him a lot of leverage heading into free agency.

Video: Losing out on Andrew Norwell significantly impacts Giants offseason

The ex-Giants coach, in a move that reaffirmed the Jacksonville Jaguars sneakily brilliant commitment to stocking up at the line of scrimmage, stole Norwell, one of free agencys surest things and the consensus top guard available, right out of New Yorks grasp.

Suddenly, without the one big-ticket veteran that warranted their infatuation and seemed destined to become a Giant, Gettlemans bunch is left to turn to Plan B. The question is: What is Plan B? Its up to you to decide whether the Giants ever had one to begin with, but they have no choice now but to move forward, so heres a look at what could be next now that Norwell is out of the picture:

As much as the Panthers would have liked to keep Norwell on their line, it wasnt entirely surprising that they couldnt afford to keep him. Having already signed his counterpart to a big-money deal last season, they wouldnt be able to match the $13.3 million a year price tag he was able to fetch.
Giants offensive line Plan B: Free agents after losing Andrew Norwell, Weston Richburg
Giants offensive line Plan B: Free agents after losing Andrew Norwell, Weston Richburg

New York Giants: O-line options with Norwell, Richburg gone

Lets start with the veteran free-agent market, which officially opens Wednesday but, for all intents and purposes, is already in full swing. Norwell was the best the Giants couldve done, although his left-tackle price tag of $66.5 million wouldve been steep for a team with so-so salary-cap space. After him, whats left in free agency is about what youd expect — a couple remaining big-money targets, some grizzled rental options, a few low-risk upside projects and even a couple familiar faces:

Video: What Could Andrew Norwell Bring to the New York Giants?

If youre the Giants, your best bet at still making a big splash is with Solder, not only because of his name but because of his resume. But in a market that saw the teams own Weston Richburg land a five-year deal, whos to say they wouldnt be forced to make Solder the games highest-paid left tackle if they were to strike a contract?

But the best approach, at least in free agency, might actually be to re-up Pugh, or at least attempt to. Whether or not the Giants are able to retain him, adding someone like Kelemete and then supplementing the group with a low-cost, prove-it deal for someone like Jeremiah Sirles or Alex Boone would then at least bolster the competition up front, especially since theres also …

With Norwell now locked down, the next best guards are likely Brandon Fusco of the 49ers, Josh Kline of the Titans, and Joe Berger of the Vikings. Those three finished No. 21, 22, and 23 in Pro Football Focus ranking of guards in 2017 — far behind Norwell, who was No. 3.

Theres no way, for the sake of getting offensive-line help, the Giants could pass on a quarterback of the future — or even generational running back Saquon Barkley — with their No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft, right?

Former Carolina Panthers lineman Andrew Norwell intends to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars on a five-year contract worth $66.5 million, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Tuesday.

Or at least thats what their stance should be. Unless New York is dead set against taking a RB so early and is absolutely sold on just one of the top passing prospects and that one prospect goes No. 1, theres no reason the Giants should be taking even this years consensus No. 1 lineman, Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, at No. 2. Its not as if the G-Men might not desperately need blockers in April, but theres just too much value to be had with the second pick that the team would be better off auctioning it off and trying for a lineman later in the first.

If it were a stud left tackle at No. 2, that might be different. But anyone who argues that Nelson is worth taking regardless of the pick value should first consider what the Giants might be able to get in return for simply moving down a couple spots. If it means landing a lesser guard or even one of the drafts few first-round tackle prospects plus an extra haul of picks for which Gettleman can target interior competition, thats exactly the route the Giants should take. Because if Gettleman has proven anything in his track record as a GM, its that hes been able to unearth starting material from later-round linemen.

The Arizona Cardinals’ won’t be landing the top offensive guard on the free agency market.

The Giants lost the free agent they desired most to a coach they once lost interest in.

Jaguars vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin swooped in and agreed with All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell to a five-year, $66.5 million deal that makes him the highest-paid guard in the NFL.

Norwell immediately upgrades the interior of Jacksonville, which struggled much of last season. The addition of the undrafted 26-year-old will improve Leonard Fournettes outlook for 2018. Norwell should also make life easier for Blake Bortles protecting the QB from pressure up the gut.

Coughlin, who won two Super Bowls in 12 years with the Giants but was fired after four straight non-playoff seasons, has done a great job in the front office of the Jaguars, who were minutes from reaching Super Bowl LII.

Ex-Ohio State OL Andrew Norwell to become NFLs highest-paid guard, per report

Well, they could turn internally to one of their own free agents, but dont expect a hometown discount from Justin Pugh, who must feel like an afterthought based on quiet negotiations during the exclusive period. 

But thats more than former teammate Weston Richburg can say, since the Giants didnt pursue him hard at all and he wound up with the 49ers.

Andrew Norwell to be the highest paid guard in the NFL with new $66.5 million deal with the Jaguars
Andrew Norwell to be the highest paid guard in the NFL with new $66.5 million deal with the Jaguars

Any offensive lineman entering negotiations with the Giants suddenly has some more leverage after seeing Norwell go to the Jaguars. The Giants need at least two new starters in free agency or high in the draft.

Here are some other free agents they should pursue quickly, with dominoes falling ahead of Wednesdays official signing period:

Neither team will have the chance, as Norwell opted for what most NFL players opt for — money. As they should, and Norwell should be a prime example why. He played college football for Ohio State but still managed to go undrafted. He was never guaranteed this kind of life-changing money and now he can get it in a state where theres no personal income tax. 

Pugh was a starter from day one as a first-round draft pick in 2013, but he has missed 13 games over the last two seasons due to injury. Hes been solid and versatile, but he hasnt made a Pro Bowl.

SI-share-whatsapp Created with Sketch. Al Bello/Getty Images Sport Quickly Jacksonville rode their run game to the AFC title game last season, and signing Andrew Norwell will only reinforce its strength. By Jonathan Jones March 13, 2018 On Monday afternoon one NFL GM thought that there were two teams still in the Andrew Norwell sweepstakes: the 49ers and Giants. It was known that the Panthers couldnt retain Norwell, and many assumed Norwell was bound for New York to reunite with Dave Gettleman, the former Panthers GM who signed him in free agency after he went undrafted in 2014.

Will the Giants pay more than $10 million a year for Pugh? Or will some other team with more cap space swoop in as the market for guards suddenly skyrockets? Probably the latter.

Jacksonville led the league in rushing attempts (527) and yards (2,262) in 2017 en route to the AFC title game. The Jaguars even had a postseason-high 101 rushing yards, and the second-place Eagles, who obviously played an extra game, only had 89. Norwells signing in Jacksonville signals a further commitment a ground attack that covers up all the passing warts (and losing Allen Robinson in free agency only adds to that, though the Jags will surely address that position in the coming weeks).

It seems like a general assumption that Solder will return to the Patriots, but it there also were erroneous reports that Norwell and the Giants was a “done deal.” Nothing is done until the deal is in place.

Was left guard the most pressing need in Jacksonville? Of course not, and certainly not when considering agent Drew Rosenhaus negotiated the highest average-per-year salary of any offensive lineman for Norwell. But the Jaguars are committed to rushing the ball back to the AFC title game, and Norwell is a huge part of that formula.

The Patriots have shown a willingness to let free agents test the open market and come back to them for a final bid. Sometimes they stay at the last minute (Devin McCourty) and sometimes they go.

Report | Jaguars come to terms with Andrew Norwell

The Giants should take most of the money they were willing to give to Norwell and redirect it to Solder. Tackle is a bigger need than guard anyway.

If not Solder, than maybe the Giants go with the cheaper option in Fleming, whose career with the Patriots got off to a slow start. The fourth-round pick was cut in 2015 but resigned to the practice squad and promoted to starter when Solder was injured.

He started the final five games of the 2017 regular season and the ensuing three playoff games at right tackle, so he is hitting the market at the right time. Still, he is a cheaper option than Pugh or Solder.

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