The Giants unofficially named their starting center on Sunday by trading away his backup and main competition for the job.
Brett Jones, who had been getting second-team reps behind Jon Halapio all training camp but played well in the recent preseason game against the Jets, was shipped to the Vikings in exchange for a seventh-round pick in next year’s draft. Jones was penciled in as the starter at center by many when the offseason program began, but Halapio moved ahead of him during the spring workouts and held on to that position.
“We like what Halapio’s been doing,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said. “We just like the way he’s been playing.”
“I’d like to think that I’m improving every day. I’d like to think that I’m ascending as a player,” Halapio said of winning the job. “I feel like it won’t hit me until Week 1.”
What did hit him on Sunday was having to say a sudden goodbye to his best friend on the team. It was Jones, in fact, who helped Halapio transition from guard to center when they were bottom-of-the-roster players. Their relationship remained strong even when they began competing for a starting job. Now Jones will have a better chance to start.
“I’m happy for him, but it [stinks] to see my friend go,” Halapio said. “That’s the tough part about this business. You build relationships like this, but you know that sometimes it doesn’t go that way for us to be together forever. It’s not a marriage.”
The trade helps the Giants by trimming Jones’ $2.9 million in salary-cap space (Halapio is due to earn $550,000 in ’18). John Greco likely will be the backup at guard and center when the season begins.
It also helps the Vikings, who need a center with Pat Elflein on PUP and starting guard Nick Easton likely out for the season.
“The trade was good for both,” Shurmur said, calling Jones “one of my favorite guys.” He added, “With their situation on the offensive line, he’ll have a chance to compete to maybe be their starter . . . He’s going to a very good place.”
The deal occurred so quickly that Jones was on the field with the Giants for the start of Sunday’s practice and had to be taken off midway through the workout.
“At that point, because we made a deal, we wanted to get him out so that he doesn’t get banged up,” Shurmur said.
Halapio didn’t have much of a chance to say goodbye to Jones in person after he was pulled off the field in the middle of practice, although the two are sure to keep in touch. If nothing else, Halapio owes a lot to Jones for bringing him to this point in his career.
“When I first started playing center, he helped me through snapping, helped me understand the game,” Halapio said. “Hats off to Brett and I always thank him. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be in this position.”