INDIANAPOLIS – When the Giants added linebackers Alec Ogletree and Kareem Martin in 2018, the moves made perfect sense. They needed veteran leadership on what was becoming an increasingly young defense, and respected voices for the new coaching staff to lean on in the locker room.
Two years later, the Giants have an even younger defense. But they’re not looking for mentors anymore.
That’s not why Ogletree and Martin were cut on Wednesday. Those were expected, salary cap-related moves. But it was a reminder of a new philosophy under new head coach Joe Judge about the kinds of players he wants on his roster. To him, age and experience are mostly irrelevant.
He has no use for players who aren’t good enough to help the Giants win.
“Look, here’s the deal: You don’t sign older players to coach the younger players. OK?” Judge said at the NFL Scouting Combine on Tuesday. “I’ve got four kids. I’m not letting the 14-year-old raise the 6-year-old. It’s not happening. OK?’
“So you don’t sign older players thinking, ‘This guy’s going to teach the younger players how to be a pro.’ That’s not how it happens. …You don’t bring in older players thinking they’re the missing piece to the puzzle and now they put you over the hill. You don’t sign older players thinking they’re going to develop the culture of your team. That’s our job as coaches. OK? That’s our job.”
That is definitely a new philosophy and approach for the Giants, especially under GM Dave Gettleman who embraced adding veterans — some clearly on a decline — as he attempted to clean up the mess he inherited when he was hired late in the 2017 season. His most notable “mentor” addition was when he signed aging running back Jonathan Stewart with the hope he could guide a young Saquon Barkley through his rookie season.
He also traded two draft picks to the L.A. Rams for Ogletree, in the hopes he’d be an immediate leader in the middle of the Giants’ reconstructed defense. And he signed Martin in large part because he had played in Arizona under then-new Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher.
In fact, in the last two years, Gettleman signed several of Bettcher’s former players, including safety Antoine Bethea, linebacker Markus Golden, linebacker Deone Buchanon and defensive tackle Olson Pierre, at least in part because they could help other players learn Bettcher’s scheme.
“I’ve done a little bit of both over the seven years I’ve been doing this,” Gettleman said. “I’ve brought veteran players in just to play, and I’ve had a couple of veteran players I knew real good things about that could be mentors. You do the background work and you figure that piece out.
“Listen, we’ve had cap guys call veteran agents for veteran players and the agents have said, ‘Oh, by the way, our guy isn’t coming in to babysit anybody.’ OK, that’s fair. That’s fine. I’m not mad.”
The babysitter days seem to be over, though, even though Judge has inherited an incredibly young team. Though a lot can change once free agency begins, the Giants don’t have a single projected starter on defense older than 26. And they have five projected starters on offense at 26 or younger, including a 22-year-old quarterback heading into his second year.
“I love that our team’s a young team,” Judge said. “I love that we can develop this team. That’s a strength. That’s a bigger strength than people understand because it gives you time to work with guys and time to mold guys. You want to have a team that you can coach and mold to be a team. And right now we have a young team. I think that’s important.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean the Giants will completely shy away from signing veteran players when the free agent market opens. Judge concedes that experienced vets can be an important resource for young players.
“The way they can help that young player develop is maybe their experience with communication or what they can see throughout a game plan may help the younger player play faster,” Judge said. “Maybe it takes a little more off that younger player’s plate, so know they can go out and play more aggressive.”
But his larger point is that there are no more free rides. He’s not looking for players on the downside of their career just so they can guide others or share their experiences.
“We’re going to look to sign players that help the team perform better,” Judge said, “and the age of that will vary.”
Only players who can help the Giants win need apply.