The Giants brought in Justin Pugh hoping to add stability and help the most glaringly weak part of their team, the offensive line.
That was 10 years ago.
They had the same motive with the same player this week, adding the now 33-year-old former first-round pick who is coming off a torn ACL to their practice squad on Tuesday.
It’s usually a nice story when former players return for second stints later in their careers. Landon Collins was last year’s homecoming king in that regard. Over the years the Giants have had Brandon Jacobs, Hakeem Nicks and any number of other former stars who went elsewhere come back to the warm embrace of 1925 Giants Drive. Heck, the franchise even entertained the idea of having its most prodigal of sons, Odell Beckham Jr., rejoin the team late last season and during the offseason.
It fosters that homey, comfy, mom-and-pop, “Once a Giant, Always a Giant” aura that the organization has embraced for nearly a century now.
But welcoming Pugh back at this point serves another less-agreeable narrative. It is an illustration of just how awful the Giants have been at rebuilding their line over the past decade. It’s actually more heartburn-inducing than heartwarming.
Pugh was supposed to be part of the answer to that problem as a first rounder in 2013. He was the opening investment made by the team to address their aging line that would include Weston Richburg early in the second round the following year and Ereck Flowers as a first-rounder in 2015. That plan never came to fruition.
By the time Dave Gettleman took over as general manager in 2018 and made it clear his priority was fixing the O-line, Pugh was a free agent and the Giants let him walk with barely any effort to retain him. He signed with the Cardinals and played there for five seasons. Gettleman never came close to his stated mission.
Now here we are in 2023 with a third front office and neither the issue nor the actual player the Giants ink can help solve it has changed.
Since the team won Super Bowl XLVI at the end of the 2011 season there have been three general managers, five head coaches, seven offensive line coaches, 17 draft picks and dozens of free agency acquisitions that have all been focused on trying to solve this one position group that has plagued any and all efforts to regain a championship form.
It took less time, effort and brainpower to turn LaGuardia from the bane of American aviation into a shiny, functioning, even pleasant airport, than it has taken the Giants to fix their offensive line.
This latest iteration of up-front ineptitude was exposed by the Seahawks on Monday night when it allowed a team-record 11 sacks and was so disjointed that one of those came on a trick play in which receiver Parris Campbell was supposed to attempt a pass. He couldn’t even cock his arm before he was swarmed by defenders.
As for the actual quarterback, Daniel Jones was brought down the other 10 times, which tied for the most sacks against a Giants quarterback since Phil Simms took 10 against the 49ers in 1980.
That wasn’t a one-off bad game. The Giants are allowing pressure on 46.9% of their quarterback dropbacks this season, the third-worst rate in the NFL ahead of only the Jets (47.1) and Bears (47.4). They have managed to gain a middle-of-the-pack 4.0 yards per carry in the running game, but even some of that production has come because their leading rusher is their quarterback who is forced to scramble out of the pocket so often.
Their one proven player in the group, left tackle Andrew Thomas, has been dealing with a hamstring injury suffered in the opener — it actually happened on the first drive when he tried to chase down a Cowboys touchdown on a blocked field goal — and hasn’t played since Week 1. Brian Daboll said Thomas isn’t expected to return in time for Sunday’s game in Miami.
Thomas was replaced by Josh Ezeudu, who was so overmatched against Seattle that he spent nearly 10 minutes staring into space regaining his composure in the postgame locker room. Last year’s seventh overall pick, Evan Neal, has struggled at right tackle. In Monday’s loss to Seattle, the Giants saw starting center John Michael Schmitz and then replacement guard Shane Lemieux both leave with injuries that could factor into their availability.
The Giants are as depleted at the position as they are deplorable.
“Got to go and coach the guys that are out there and do a good job with that, then get them ready to play,” Daboll said of the current strategy on Wednesday.
Ezeudu, who had regained his perspective by Wednesday and conceded that Monday was among the “most down I have ever been,” said the offensive line room remains confident.
“We know the work we have to do and we know we are capable of everything that everyone says we are not,” he said.
The Giants have few options beyond hoping that happens quickly.
Pugh is one of them.
He worked out for the team two weeks ago when they were staying in Arizona between their games against the Cardinals and Niners and was on his way to New Jersey before the Seahawks debacle so his addition isn’t a knee-jerk to that situation. Clearly the Giants already understood they could use the presence of someone with 119 regular season and two postseason starts at both tackle and guard (which is now his primary position) to help their wayward bunch.
It will take some time before this newest — and oldest — member of the offensive line can make any kind of on-field impact, though. Daboll said the plan for Pugh was to work on the side and start to get acclimated to his surroundings on Wednesday — it was his first practice of any kind since last October when he tore his ACL — and did not expect him to be an option for Sunday’s game. It may take another week or longer before Pugh works his way up to a gameday uniform for the Giants.
When he gets one, and it seems inevitable at this point he will, he’ll play not only in the same Giants colors in which he began his career but in the same jersey number. The 67 he wore when he was with them the first time around was still available for this reunion.
Things around here just never seem to change. Sometimes that’s for the better. In this case it feels more like a curse.