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Stay or Go: Should Giants bring Justin Pugh back for 2024 season?

Justin Pugh was essentially out of the league until October, but the Giants signed him to a practice squad contract that was, in his own words, “straight off [his] couch.”

Less than two weeks later, Pugh was in the starting lineup and ended up starting 12 games.

Pugh was originally drafted by the Giants in the first round of the 2013 draft and played for Big Blue in the first five years of his career but spent the past five seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. He only signed a one-year deal when he was elevated to the active roster and is therefore a free agent once again.

So, should the Giants bring Pugh back?

Why Pugh should be back

The Giants’ offensive line had been in disarray before Pugh’s arrival, with multiple injuries and a complete lack of cohesion and chemistry as a unit. Things settled down almost immediately once he was in the lineup, as he provided a settling influence. His veteran leadership and experience are obviously valuable assets.

While Pugh was brought in to play left guard and ended up mostly playing there, he was forced to move to left tackle less than 10 snaps into his first appearance of the season after he found himself protecting the quarterback’s blindside due to another injury. Surprisingly, the line held up well as they almost beat the Bills. Pugh would start at left tackle in the following week’s win over the Commanders and played there in two other games. This versatility will be useful in the event of another injury crisis next season.

If the Giants do attempt to re-sign Pugh, he should be affordable. The Giants shouldn't have any competition since he’s already stated he’s only interested in returning for a 12th season if he can re-join them. If true, there shouldn't be any risk of a bidding war pushing his price up. Pugh would also seemingly be amenable to a backup role rather than wanting a guaranteed starting spot.

Why Pugh shouldn’t be back

Although he was a stabilizing influence, Pugh’s individual performance was inconsistent. In his 12 starts, he posted a below-average run-blocking grade, allowed a team-high and career-high eight sacks and committed five penalties. The Giants might be interested in him returning as a depth option but will be looking to upgrade their starters with more expensive free agents and high draft picks.

While he was able to make 12 straight starts to finish the season and just missed five snaps, Pugh was coming off an ACL tear suffered in 2022 and may never be able to get back to where he once was athletically. It will also be difficult for him to recover from another serious injury.

Pugh will be 34 in Week 1 and is clearly past his prime. He may simply opt to retire and there’s no guarantee he would even make the roster even if he did re-sign.

Verdict

Pugh brought some positive things to the table when he arrived last year and would have ingratiated himself to the coaching staff with his dependability. However, he’s not the player he once was, and the Giants will ultimately be hoping to fill his spot with someone younger and more consistent.

Clearly, there is interest from the player himself in returning, so if the team thinks his presence at training camp will be valuable, then signing him to a low-level deal would seem like a no-brainer. It’s unlikely that he’ll get much in the way of guarantees, though, not just in respect of his salary but also in terms of whether he will be guaranteed a spot on the final roster.