Nick Gates, center
Weight: 318 pounds.
NFL Experience: 5 years
If there’s one candidate on the New York Giants unrestricted free agent list who should be considered for a new contract based on history alone, it’s fifth-year center Nick Gates.
A native of Las Vegas, Nevada, Gates joined the Giants in May 2018 as an undrafted free agent who dropped out of the University of Nebraska. He played three seasons and appeared in 35 games for the Cornhuskers, earning numerous honors including Third-Team All-Big Ten in 2016 and BTN All-Bowl Team in 2015.
In that span, he totaled 2,352 snaps with a slight lead at blocking passes and was a pretty solid protector with two sacks, 14 hits, 53 haste, and 69 total presses that allowed for a career efficiency of 97.0%.
After signing with the Giants in 2018, Gates spent most of his first season on the injured reserve list and was limited to 291 snaps in the 2019 campaign. In his third year with New York, Gates had signed a two-year, $6.825 million contract extension and was named the team’s starting center. He starred in a career-high 1,015 snaps (633 pass, 381 run), with an efficiency of 98.6% without bags and 16 allowable pressures.
The 2021 season would bring an unexpected and unknown turn to the 27-year-old’s career. In a 30-29 loss to Washington in Week 2, Gates suffered a brutal season-ending leg injury in the first quarter. His rehab process required multiple surgeries to fix his left leg and there were questions about whether he would ever see the football field again.
But just over a year after the gruesome injury, Gates was delisted from the PUP list in October 2022, eventually returning to his role in the starting offensive. He contributed snaps at both left guard and center but even saw some reps as an inline tight end.
When Nick Gates returned to the active roster on October 26, 2022, when there was no guarantee he would put the shoulder pads back on, he still put on a pretty clean offensive line performance by his standards.
With 368 snaps, the second most of his NFL tenure, Gates allowed just one sack, two hits and seven hastes for ten pressings in the pocket, resulting in a strong 97.4% efficiency rating. For a player with his gridiron and physical setbacks, Gates bid with a score of 69.3 on Pro Football Focus (second highest), but struggled with run blocking, which fell to a career-low 59.0.
In the penalty department, the 6’6-inch, 318-pound lineman has cleaned up a bit with just four violations compared to his record eight of the 2020 season. Carving out the yellow flags thrown his way was certainly an improvement at the NFL level, where he hasn’t achieved the consistency with calls against him that he suffered on the Nebraska collegiate stage.
Gates’ best performance came in Week 12 against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, when the veteran played in 64 snaps at center and succumbed to just one shot in the entire contest to post a 98.6% efficiency rating along with a season-high 88.6 in the run to achieve blocking.
In Week 14 against Philadelphia, his blocking totals dropped a bit, but Gates held his own in 64 snaps against the league’s best pass rush, allowing a sack, a hit and a rush for a 95.3% efficiency.
Why the giants should keep him
The most important thing Nick Gates offers the Giants with a new contract is familiarity and solid frontline production.
As a budding fifth-year player who’s seen his fair share of trials and tribulations in the trenches, Gates could at least serve as a valuable mentor to the younger offensive linemen. Especially in middle position, where there’s a chance the Giants will use one of their draft picks in 2023 to secure a top prospect for their depth chart.
His numbers come mostly from midfield, but Gates has shown this season that he’s no stranger to versatility. The only year he played a position was 2020 with 1,014 snaps at center. The remaining seasons saw snaps at guard, tackle, and inline tight end, including 213 and 21 on the last two holes during the 2022 season.
GIANTS UFA PRIMERS: QB Daniel Jones
Why the giants shouldn’t keep him
The two biggest issues with keeping Gates for the 2023 season are his potential desires for on-field use and the future of his health.
Having adjusted to the role prior to his injuries, Gates could return to the negotiating table and expect the Giants to seek a center offensive line starting spot next fall, which the team may not be ready for.
While Gates remains healthy with New York going forward, there are concerns about his penalty problems throughout his career. Ever since his Nebraska days, the 27-year-old has been prone to insider offenses, earning at least five per season with the Cornhuskers and 12 overall at the NFL level.
While this may be a result of the carousel between positions he was put through by the Giants, any physical decline in his technique could exacerbate this problem over time.
Most importantly, while his quarterback protection numbers have been pretty clear, the Giants may still want to upgrade their offensive line with more talented and healthier studs this offseason.
One of their main goals is to develop their young fortune and strengthen around them to ensure the rest of the offensive has time to perform at the highest level. It’s hard to say for certain that Gates could fit into this picture as a full-fledged starter.
Keep or throw away?
As the Giants look to bolster their offensive line through the draft and potential free agent signings, it’s hard to imagine them devoting the starters’ money to a player from Nick Gates history.
The stats show that he’s been one of the top center guard combo blockers in the league for the past few seasons. However, as with other positions, you don’t want to tie up a large amount of money for a player who may fall behind due to previous injuries or miss further time due to those injuries.
The market probably wouldn’t be kind to Gates for the entry fee, but if the Giants can work out a cheaper deal to bring him back and serve as a deep player on the roster, it’s worth the small investment and his consideration. It’s possible to see him as a reserve on the Giants’ depth chart next season. If he wants an entry-level job, both sides can agree to go their separate ways.