There’s been a lot of discussion about ongoing offseason needs in Washington over the past few months, and the lion’s share of that conversation has centered around two position groups: offensive line and linebacker. This piece is intended to extend the dialogue around the former unit.
In 2021, while playing against Washington for the Giants, center Nick Gates broke both the bones in his lower left leg, later endured seven surgeries to repair the damage, and worked his way back to starting eight games for New York in 2022. He was signed by Washington this offseason to a 3-year, $16.5M deal ($5.5M/yr) with $8M guaranteed.
Gates was originally signed by the Giants as an undrafted free agent out of Nebraska in 2018. By 2020, Gates started all 16 games for the Giants, and didn’t allow a single sack while playing center.
Most Pass Blocking Snaps without allowing a Sack in 2020 (among Centers:— PFF DET Lions (@PFF_Lions) June 28, 2021
1. TEN Ben Jones - 1,042
2. NYG Nick Gates - 1,014
3. DET Frank Ragnow - 929
4. KC Austin Reiter - 867#OnePride pic.twitter.com/k1wVeDF6K4
By the time he went down with injury, Gates had grown into a fan favorite in the Big Apple. And, in the summer after his outstanding 2020 season, he was being hailed as the “leader of the offensive line.”
Gates improved from the beginning of the season to the end. After surrendering six hurries in his first three games, he allowed only 10 over the final 13 games and only two in the final six games. Gates did not allow a sack all season.
According to Pro Football Focus, Gates’ four highest-graded games all came over the season’s final eight weeks.
Once called the “alpha male that you want’ at center by former offensive line coach Marc Colombo, Gates showcased the skillset and the disposition to lead the line. He was the offensive lineman most often made available to media, and the one most likely to find himself in a scrum defending teammates.
Going into the 2021 season, Gates was the line’s “foundation,” and expected to be the team’s starting center - despite that being a position he had never played in college or in the pros prior to 2020.
Gates started two games in 2021 before being severely injured against Washington:
“(Jonathan) Allen put a hump move on me, and I was just trying to fight (him) off as hard as I could,” Gates said. “That’s a hard move. Once they get sunk in, it’s hard to fight it. I was just hoping (quarterback) Daniel (Jones) would get rid of the ball. He stepped up and I guess (Daron) Payne jumped and the next thing I knew, I snapped my leg. I just had all my weight on one leg and it just happened.”
In the summer of 2022, it was unclear if Gates would even play another game in the NFL. In any case, Giants’ fans thought it was unlikely he would play last season. But, Gates beat those odds and ended up making his first appearance back on the field in late November.
The writers over at Big Blue View are renowned for their very solid film breakdowns, and the evaluation by Nick Falato after Gates’ first game back from injury was both comprehensive and glowing:
Nick Gates’ story is sensational, and his overall effectiveness on Thanksgiving was truly impressive. His underdog tale includes an unlikely undrafted path to the 53-man roster that he achieved, despite spending his rookie season on injured reserve. He then played every position along the offensive line other than left tackle before the catastrophic leg injury last season.
Defying the odds, Gates was able to overcome the incredible obstacles on his path and found his way back to the field. Not only is he back on the active roster, but he might be the best interior offensive lineman currently on the Giants. It’s an extraordinary story for a remarkable human being.
The return of Gates is admirable, and it’s consistent with his tough mentality and temperament. Mixing up the offensive line should, at the least, be considered by Bobby Johnson, Mike Kafka, and Brian Daboll. That mix-up should not deviate from who started at center against Dallas. To me, Nick Gates should remain in the starting lineup.
That said, Gates - through his play - had effectively priced himself out of the market that the Giants were willing to pay at center, and he was picked up by the Commanders early on in free agency.
The Giants lost both Gates and center Jon Feliciano this offseason, and were put in a position where they effectively had to pick for need at the role in the 2023 draft.
I recently stumbled on this account, from Falato, below, where he compares New York’s newly drafted rookie center - taken in the second round - to approximating the guy we plucked off their roster this offseason.
John Michael Schmitz has the 'Nick Gates' offensive lineman mentality that we loved so much. Just an aggressive tone-setting finisher. pic.twitter.com/3uHb4iTX6E— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) April 29, 2023
In essence, Gates’ deal is Wes Schweitzer’s 2020 3-year deal with Washington - $4.4M/yr - adjusted for cap inflation. If Gates can stay healthy, provide solid guard/center flexibility for the team, and perhaps even start for a bit while Ricky Stromberg adjusts to the pro game, I think it will have been a reasonable investment in a guy that it sounds like fans could easily come to love.
Who do you think will start at center to open the season?
This poll is closed