New York Giants: O-Line Anchor Justin Pugh Poised For a Big Payday
Aug 12, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA;New York Giants offensive guard Justin Pugh (67) blocks Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Deandre Coleman (62) in the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Pugh, the anchor of the New York Giants’ offensive line, is poised to be paid big bucks after toiling in the trenches for the past four seasons. 

Say what you want about the New York Giants‘ offensive line, but they do have some redeeming features. Center Weston Richburg has been everything the club thought he would be when they took him in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. If that is true, then Justin Pugh, the Giants’ top pick back in 2013, has been much more.

Pugh was selected 19th overall out of Syracuse by the Giants that year, and as usual, the fans frowned, citing the lack of imagination on the Giants’ part. Four years later, those same fans would kill for another Justin Pugh.

“He’s a terrific football player — big, smart, high test scores and a team captain,” General Manager Jerry Reese told reporters after he made the selection. “He’s our type of guy — clean. No warts, no off-field issues and a good athlete. He’s a solid football player, and I think you win with solid football players.”

Well, the Giants haven’t won with Pugh until just last season. He began his career at tackle, where he held his own against some of the league’s best pass rushers. But the Giants decided to move him inside where he has fared much better. At present, he is cemented in at left guard and has become the glue of what the team hopes are a unit on the rise.

Twenty-seventeen will be Pugh’s fifth season with the Giants. His rookie deal was extended out and additional year. He will earn a respectable $8.821 million this year, but after being rated the 13th best guard in the NFL by Pro Football Focus, Pugh is expecting that salary to rise significantly.

I’m sitting in the driver’s seat,’’ Pugh said, as per Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post. “…I’ve played good football. I know how important this year is for me. I think this is the best Giants team I’ve been on, so I think the sky’s the limit for the team and myself.’’

Providing what happens this season, the Giants are expected to continue their relationship with Pugh via a long term contract. At the very least, Pugh will earn the one-year franchise tag, which was worth $14.271 million this season.

“Trust me, I noticed,’’ Pugh said of how many interior linemen are being paid nowadays. “Some of the guards are really good players who have not made Pro Bowls, guys that have missed significant time and have gotten paid a lot of money. I know where I sit in that hierarchy. I also know the Giants need to do right by me, too.”

The truth is, the fifth-year option has already jettisoned Pugh towards the top of his bracket but feels he deserves a longer-term commitment from the Giants.

“I’ve gone out there and done everything they’ve ever asked me to do. So I know my worth. I’m going to go out there and play my best season of football and hopefully, the Giants say, ‘Let’s pay him what he deserves.’”

Top Six Paid Guards in the NFL 2017 (by Salary Cap Hit)

  1. Kelechi Osemele, Baltimore – $13.5 million
  2. Joel Bitonio, Cleveland – $12,237,813
  3. David DeCastro, Pittsburgh – $11,050,000
  4. Mike Iupati, Arizona – $9.7 million
  5. Marshal Yanda, Baltimore – $9,125,220
  6. Justin Pugh, NY Giants – $8.821,000

Expect the Giants and Pugh to not drag these negotiations out too far. Pugh is a stand-up guy who projects a positive presence on and off the field. With the Giants in the midst of rebuilding their line and challenging for a championship, keeping Pugh around should be an easy decision for Reese and Co.

This offseason, Pugh has been working strictly at guard. The Giants are not even considering moving him back out to tackle. He’s poised for a big year and a bigger contract.

John Fennelly has been covering the New York sports scene on the Internet since 1997. He has advised and been published on dozens of prominent websites and in major periodicals and can been heard on sports talk radio stations all over the dial. Before embarking on his career as an accredited journalist, John held several management positions in a successful 25-year career in the financial industry. He holds a degree in New Media/Journalism from Queens College.