Giants offensive lineman Nate Solder likely knew the risks involved when he decided last summer to opt-out of the 2020 NFL season.
Solder, a cancer survivor who also has a young son battling cancer and who at the time had a new baby daughter, put his NFL career on hiatus for the sake of his family.
The Giants, meanwhile, who are thought to have planned for first-round draft pick Andrew Thomas to play right tackle, suddenly had to plug that hole at left tackle with the rookie, who had an up and down year.
Solder, meanwhile, who was coming off a poor 2019 season and one in which there were some questions as to whether the Giant might terminate his contract, did what he had to do, not knowing if he'd be back to the game.
But with the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, Solder is back, having reworked his contract to where he saved the Giants some cap space (it still would have been too expensive to cut him.
Moreover, he's agreed to take on whatever role the coaches ask of him, which right now looks to be the swing tackle position, a role that will necessitate him reacquainting himself with playing right tackle.
Are the Giants making a mistake in having Solder back? We don't think they are, but let's go through the exercise all the same.
What He Brings
When we last left Nate Solder at the end of the 2019 season, he was coming off a second straight disappointing season in which his second campaign as a Giant was even worse than his first one.
His pass-blocking was simply unreliable, whether due to clumsy footwork, an inability to hold up against power, or just overall inconsistent technique and balance that could never overcome the compromises that he found himself floundering in much too often.
An ankle injury might have been at play here, but the fact remains that Solder didn't miss a game. If he was indeed fighting through an injury ailment (he had pre-season surgery to remove some debris in his ankle), if you're out there, you need to perform.
Instead, Solder struggled mightily. He went from allowing 33 pressures in 2018 to a whopping 56 in 2019. And his run-blocking wasn't that much better, though he did finish the 2019 campaign with two decent games.
All that said, Solder is a good locker room presence, a leader, and a guy head coach Joe Judge appreciates for his no-nonsense and straightforward approach. That's why Solder is still on this team despite carrying a hefty contract that makes him the highest-paid offensive lineman on the team as far as 2021 cap hit is concerned.
With the Giants having cut Kevin Zeitler, Solder's return makes him the longest-tenured offensive lineman on the roster, a guy who can serve as a sounding board for the younger offensive linemen and, in particular, the two young tackles, Thomas and Matt Peart.
As a side benefit, if Solder is in football shape, perhaps the year away from the game will have helped his body, which by the end of the 2019 season was hurting, to heal just enough to get him through one more NFL season, if he's needed.
With Solder having opted out last year, his contract tolled, meaning it froze in place and resumed in 2021 with two years remaining. However, the Giants cut Solder's base salary down to $3 million (fully guaranteed) to create a $6 million cap savings, which the team would have saved had he been cut.
The team also voided the final year of Solder's contract (2022), so he'll only count for $4 million in dead money (the final prorated part of his signing bonus) next year.
One gets the really strong impression that the Giants would prefer their starting offensive tackles be Thomas and second-year man Peart. That said, Peart isn't going to be handed the job on a silver platter; he'll compete with Solder for it.
While Solder has many more years of NFL experience, his year away from the game and the effect it's had on his body, his stamina, and his strength are all questions marks that the Giants probably hope they won't have to answer since that would mean Peart or Thomas can't play the positions for which they have been drafted.
Find all our training camp player previews in one spot. New profiles are added daily until we get to the end of the roster.
Join the Giants Country Community!