Soon enough, we will all see what a Joe Judge player looks like.
The NFL, thankfully, is open for business Monday with the start of the free-agency negotiating period. The first-year head coach of the Giants does not call all the shots here. He does not wield the power his former boss, Bill Belichick, held with the Patriots.
Judge is 38 years old and he has never before been a head coach at any level, meaning he has never put his vision into action as to the makeup of the roster he puts on the field.
The head coach, young or old, does not get final say with the Giants, not in free agency, not in the NFL draft. The hierarchy is well-established and it is the general manager, be it George Young or Ernie Accorsi or Jerry Reese or Dave Gettleman, who gets the deciding vote on who gets signed and who gets selected.
Gettleman in the public domain can come off gruff and domineering, but he is anything but a bully behind the scenes. He believes in collaboration and Judge will come to learn Gettleman will work to find players who fit the coaching scheme. Now then, if the head coach downplays the need to be strong across the offensive and defensive lines and prefers a finesse-based, skill-oriented roster there are going to be some deep discussions, as Gettleman generally believes big men win games. These conversations have already gone down and you can be sure Gettleman and Judge are on the same page as they embark on this first crucial player-procurement cycle.
“I think the biggest thing you look for on the field is smart players who can execute the assignment, who can play situationally aware,’’ Judge said. “Tough guys, physically and mentally tough. Can they do what’s right for the team when it’s not always what’s right for them, and can they play through some discomfort? You want guys that play fundamentally sound. There are aspects you’re going to evaluate.
“There are things you can coach and teach, and there are things you can’t coach and teach. I’m not going to coach anybody to be taller or really faster. Now, I can coach them to play faster by knowing their assignment better and anticipating what may come their way. But there are going to be certain traits that are critical factors that we have to identify in these players, whether it’s a free agent joining our program or a college player we may look to draft or sign as a free agent. Regardless of their past, we have to know skillset-wise what we’re getting.’’
This is going to be a fascinating case study. Judge’s résumé is almost exclusively filled with special teams assignments. His one year (in 2019) filling a dual role as the wide receivers coach in New England does not qualify him as an expert in that position. So, there is no data on the players who fit best in a Joe Judge offense or a Joe Judge defense, because he has never coordinated either of those sides of the ball.
The past few years, the Giants signed several players on defense who worked well in Arizona with former Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher. The Giants signed tight end Rhett Ellison and right tackle Mike Remmers, guys who played for Pat Shurmur when he ran the offense with the Vikings.
Judge, like most every coach, will try to find a few of his favorites from his Patriots days to help establish a way of doing things with the Giants. There are a bunch of possibilities to choose from: Linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins and guard Joe Thuney (although this is not a position of need) are the bigger-name guys, unless you want to get all crazy and mention Tom Brady here.
There are other interesting Patriots options for Judge and the Giants to consider. Nate Ebner is listed as a safety but does most of his work on special teams where — you guessed it — Judge ran the show. Linebacker/fullback Elandon Roberts is also a special teams guy. Center Ted Karras stepped in for injured David Andrews and played 1,041 snaps. Plus, he should get some consideration simply for being the great-nephew of Alex Karras, who as Mongo once punched a horse in “Blazing Saddles’’ and was a recent addition to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Soon enough, some of these questions get answered and we finally get to see what Joe Judge wants based on the players the Giants sign.