Identifying One of Joe Judge’s Biggest Challenges Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

Patricia Traina

The novel coronavirus has created something of a landmine for businesses across all sectors to try to navigate while science and medicine work feverishly for a cure.

But for 38-year-old Giants head coach Joe Judge, besides keeping his players and staff as safe as possible from the virus’ reach, it’s created a whole new set of challenges as the coach looks to build the right team.

Due to the health and safety protocols adopted by the NFL to ensure that the virus is kept out of its locker rooms, the days of teams being able to hold a workout on Tuesday, sign a player, and then get him into meetings and practice are on indefinite hold.

Instead, they will likely be replaced by the system currently in place, which is a nearly week-long mandatory testing protocol in which players must produce two negative COVID-19 tests before they’re even allowed to set foot inside team headquarters.

As a result, teams might be less likely to swap out players, particularly at the bottom of the roster, unless they have no other choice.

“That’s one thing we have talked about. This may be a different training camp around the league in terms of the time of the claims,” Judge said during a video conference call with reporters Friday.

That could be good news for the undrafted free agents and other “bubble” guys who are looking to stick on an NFL roster in that there might be less inclined to send them packing as quickly as might have otherwise been the case in other years.

Whereas some teams have already cut down their rosters to the league-mandated 80-man count ahead of the August 16 deadline, Judge has opted to keep a split-squad in which one group consists of rookies, first-year players and select veterans and the other group consists of the rest of the team which reported to camp on July 28.

Eventually, there will have to be some roster movement, especially s injuries, and any new cases of COVID pop up to force a team’s hand.

“It’s still the National Football League, and people are going to look to fill their needs and possibly improve their depth as they see guys on the waiver wire,” Judge said. 

“The one thing I think you have to be conscious about as a coach is if you have to move somebody off the roster to claim somebody, you better have a plan in place for that week so you can say you are at 80, but you are really at 79 if that makes sense.’’

One potential plan some teams have reportedly considered is to quarantine players at certain positions such as quarterback and kicker, to keep them safe should a COVID-19 outbreak happen. Judge, however, doesn’t see that step as being necessary right now.

“I think we are doing everything we possibly can to keep our guys extra safe, to be honest with you,” he said. “Our guys know to go back to the hotel, (and) they are in their room. We keep them late enough here anyway. They don’t have a ton of time once they leave the building. Normally they get back, read their notebook, and then their head hits the pillow, and they’re out, and they start the day over again.

“We are just making sure all of our players—not anyone specific, but all of our players—keep spacing and follow the protocols. We put a lot of work into that. It’s just part of understanding what we are dealing with. We can’t make this the biggest obstacle. We are going to have 16 games of opponents that are going to be a lot tougher than just following protocols. We have to get ready right now and follow all the little details and get ready for the season.”

Before COVID-19 was a pandemic, there was already pressure on Judge, a first-time head coach at any level, to turn around a Giants franchise that has won just 12 games in the last three seasons and which has resulted in the team now being on their third head coach over that time.

If Judge is feeling any extra pressure to get things right given the circumstances, he’s not letting on.

“There are unknowns in every season going in,” he said. “This year is no different; it just has a different element that we haven’t dealt with before. As we go, we’ll see how things change and how they shake out. Right now, we are looking to go ahead and build the strongest team we can.”