Breaking Down Justin Pugh’s Contract Situation

While the media has made Odell Beckham Jr.’s contract situation evergreen news, the same can’t be said about Beckham’s teammate.

Odell Beckham Jr. wants a new contract. If you didn’t know that, just tune into your local news station, go to any football site or ask somebody on the street. It’s old news at this point. But what some people may forget is that Justin Pugh is also due for a contract extension.

The Giants picked up Pugh’s fifth-year option, making this upcoming season the last year of Pugh’s deal.

Pugh, who was drafted in the first round back in 2013, has been this generation’s David Diehl. Pugh has lined up virtually everywhere along the offensive line, starting his career at right tackle, before moving to left guard in 2015.

He’s stepped in at left tackle at times, and is likely the emergency center if things really go awry. Most of the time, Pugh has played like an elite, top-end guard. He’s neither the most athletic guard, nor the biggest guard. However, Pugh utilizes strong technique and football intelligence to help him win battles on the inside against guys like Mike Daniels and Gerald McCoy.

But at other times, Pugh has been prone to mistakes, as well as injuries.

Pugh hasn’t started all 16 games since his rookie year. Last year, he missed five games because of a knee injury. In the games Pugh missed, the Giants went 4–1. However, in 2015 and 2014, the Giants went 0–4 with Pugh out of the lineup.

Pro Football Focus’ Zach Aulakh produced a helpful graph to illuminate how Pugh has played over his four years thus far.

(Pro Football Focus)

While some may think Pugh is overrated, there’s no denying the fact that the offense is better when he’s on the field. Pugh has also established himself as one of the leaders on the offense, as he’s someone who often serves as the offensive line’s spokesperson to the media, per se.

If Pugh can stay healthy in 2017, he more than deserves an extension. They only question is whether the Giants have enough capital to realistically expect to lock their starting left guard up.

What makes Pugh’s situation extraordinarily tricky is the inflated guard market. Honestly, saying any position’s market is inflated is kind of a redundancy. Free agency is where solid “B” players get “A+” money. It’s that way in the NFL, as well as the NBA. It’s why Jrue Holiday inked a five-year, $126 million contract, and why Kenny Britt inked a $32.5 million deal. It’s the nature of the beast at this point.

Unfortunately for the Giants, the guard market has grossly increased as of late. Here’s a look at some of the contracts signed by guards:

Like Winters, Zeitler and Warford, Pugh will be under the age of 28 by opening kickoff (Zeitler, Warford and Pugh will be 27. Winters will be 26). Another interesting aspect of those aforementioned contracts is that only Zeitler played in all 16 games last season.

Pugh also understands that the recent contracts signed by guards figure to set him up with a nice payday.

“The guard market has gone up,” Pugh said, according to Dan Duggan of NJ Advance Media. “I definitely have taken notice. I’ve seen what these guys are getting. I’ve seen guys that I came in with. That’s just part of this game. It’s part of the business of it. It’s the tough part of it, but in this league, if you go out and you produce, you get paid.”

While it’s still unclear exactly what Pugh is asking for, one has to imagine it will be something similar to the contract Zietler received. The Giants are going to be in a bit of a financial pickle. Beckham obviously needs to be extended, and that’s going to be costly. Landon Collins, whom the team cannot exercise a fifth-year option on because such a thing doesn’t exist for second-round players, has a contract that expires after the 2018 season. Weston Richburg, who you could argue is more valuable to the Giants than Pugh, will be a free agent after the 2017 season.

While Pugh is certainly an important piece on the Giants, as well as a very good guard, is he really more valuable than Odell Beckham Jr. or Landon Collins?

What all of those factors mean is that it’s going to be incredibly tricky for the Giants to retain Pugh. But tricky doesn’t necessarily mean impossible.

The good news, at least for the Giants, is that other than that above blurb, Pugh hasn’t really addressed his contract at all. Instead, he’s been defending Odell Beckham Jr., and stating the Giants are ‘ready to win tomorrow.’

Time will tell whether the Giants are able to work something out with their starting guard. If they’re not, then the offensive line, an already weak unit, will get even weaker. Things will get truly interesting if Pugh is able to make it through an entire 16-game season.

Talk Giants with Ryan on Twitter: @DisdierSports