Three football plays–each maybe three seconds a piece, if that long–have suddenly set the New York Giants little corner of the internet on fire.
The three plays I’m referencing are the first team reps that undrafted rookie free agent Chad Wheeler received toward the end of Wednesday’s practice with the starting offensive line, reps that put an uninjured Ereck flowers, the incumbent, on the sideline.
While Giants fans are probably getting ready to break open the bubbly over what appears to be head coach Ben McAdoo’s realization that the man who has twice led the team in penalties in his two seasons in the league isn’t worth the roster spot he occupies, I’m afraid such celebrations would be premature.
As I’ve noted before, the Giants need to decide at the end of this year whether to pick up the option year of Flowers’ rookie contract.
Because Flowers is a top-10 draft pick—he was chosen ninth overall in 2015–the compensation, should the Giants pick up the option that would kick in for the 2019 season, would be the equivalent of what a transition tag would pay at that position (the average of the top 10 earning players at that spot).
While it’s too early to calculate that amount, it’s no secret that NFL left tackles get paid handsomely, so any such investment in Flowers would have to be carefully weighed against the team’s salary cap space in 2019.
Another thing to remember when picking up the fifth year of a player’s rookie deal is that it becomes guaranteed for injury, a guarantee that kicks in only if the player was unable to play the following season after getting hurt.
Business stuff aside, Flowers’ improvement—and yes, he has shown improvement—has come in bits and pieces. His hands are faster. He’s in better shape—he admitted that he’s not tiring out as fast as he used to.
And he seems dialed into what he must do from a play perspective.
“I see myself improving every day out here at camp,” Flowers said last week. “First I started off a little bit, and now I see me getting a lot better every day.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that he doesn’t get sloppy and revert to poor habits which helped get him here to begin with.
There are still enough instances where he doesn’t bend at the knees or where he grabs a charging defender up around the head and neck area, or where he back pedals and doesn’t recover in time to catch a defensive lineman who has beaten him with quickness.
Okay, so why then did Wheeler get first-team reps if the Giants aren’t planning on moving Flowers to the bench?
The biggest and only reason I can come up with is that the rookie earned the reps (gee, what a novel concept, right?) After all, isn’t that what training camp is for, for young players to earn more playing time and to build on their progress little by little?
“I just wanted to take a look at him,” head coach Ben McAdoo said when asked if Wheeler earned the reps.
Then there are some that believe McAdoo was trying to send a message to Flowers, who didn’t have one of his better practices Wednesday.
That might be unfair to Wheeler, who played his college ball at USC.
Wheeler, as I’ve written in earlier training camp reports (you can find a list of reports here) started out shaky. I though he did a little too much holding on pass blocking situations (I still believe that, and his blatant hold of defensive end Olivier Vernon on the first of his three snaps did little to convince me otherwise).
I also have doubts about whether he’s strong enough to play at the NFL level now (but to be fair, I have those doubts about the majority of the pit players, a doubt that usually turns out to be warranted.)
But let’s be fair to Wheeler. He has improved and he earned those snaps. While jobs won’t be won or lost in training camp practices—certainly not three snaps either–what the snaps will do for the Giants is give them idea if they finally, after two years, have a potential backup option should Flowers either become injured or, worse yet, come up short in this critical third season for him.