INDIANAPOLIS — It has been 50 days since Joe Judge became the New York Giants coach. In that time, the names Daniel or Saquon have not left his lips in a public setting. Not one name of a player on his roster has been uttered.
It’s a strange, somewhat Belichickian, approach. Judge is keeping his true feelings about quarterback Daniel Jones, running back Saquon Barkley and everyone else who is under contract with the Giants suppressed.
“Every one of our players is going to come here with a blank slate and be able to compete from the ground up from day one. … No one has a spot,” Judge said Tuesday at the NFL scouting combine.
This isn’t enough to start questioning Jones’ future or Judge’s intentions. The coach has made it clear he cares only about what the players do from this point forward, and that everyone is treated equally — in much the same way his former boss Bill Belichick treated quarterback Tom Brady.
There is no trouble in Big Blue Paradise. This is just the game Judge wants to play. General manager Dave Gettleman didn’t fall out of “full-bloom love” with Jones in 10 months. In fact, he’s still very much enamored with the Giants’ young quarterback, possibly even more so than before after watching firsthand how he operates for most of the past year.
“Let me ask you this question,” an exasperated Gettleman said while shaking his head in disgust at the mere question of whether the Giants were planning their future around Jones. “Who was the guy that took the last snap in the last game? OK, so I answered the question.”
There clearly are more pressing matters atop the Giants’ offseason to-do list. They began changing the roster by cutting Alec Ogletree and Kareem Martin on Wednesday. That saved $13.05 million against the salary cap for this year. It’s the beginning of a process that could get the Giants to more than $80 million under the cap entering free agency.
Judge has been busy these past two months trying to get things in order. He began by assembling a coaching staff filled with names and characters from his past.
They’ve spent time evaluating their own pending free agents and have started on draft prospects, all while installing their schemes. It remains a crash course.
“You know, it’s a unique situation when you have a new staff really kind of coming together at the same time, and you’re not adding a single guy, you’re adding an entire staff,” Judge said. “The unique thing is all of our families are somewhere else. We’re at an apartment complex down the street from the stadium, and it’s basically like a college dorm. Not that we’re having toga parties, but just in terms of we’re together all the time, we’re commuting back and forth, we’re constantly talking ball, we’re in early, we’re working late.”
Here’s what we know so far. The Giants under Judge are on the lookout for versatile players, and it will be noticeable next month. They are going to be looking for players who they deem as “smart” and “tough” in free agency.
The Giants desperately need an improved pass rush, but if an elite player doesn’t fall in their laps and they end up with two or three solid pass-rushers rather than a star who commands most of the attention, Judge is fine with that. It’s going to be hard to find that next great Giants pass-rusher in free agency. Gettleman is working under the assumption that all the top pass-rushers (with maybe the exception of Jadeveon Clowney) will be tagged by their current teams.
With so little currently invested in their defense, this might take time. The Giants have just $23.2 million of their cap space for 2020 invested in their defense. That’s less than Khalil Mack (Raiders) and Aaron Donald (Rams) are expected to cost their respective teams this season. It’s by far the lowest total in the NFL, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next on the list at $42.9 million.
Still, Judge likes the blank canvas. He views an impressionable roster, with five players over 30 under contract, as a positive.
“I love that our team is a young team. … We can develop this team. That is a strength,” Judge said. “That is a much bigger strength than people understand. It gives you time to work with guys. Time to mold guys.
“All these guys that come out in the draft, their best advantage is that they’re young. They got young legs and they’re impressionable. That is critical.”
So is adding talent. That is next on the to-do list.