Which Giants Veterans Will Add to the Team's Leadership?
One thing that is very clear from the players that the Giants have brought in this offseason through free agency and the draft is that leadership is a quality that head coach Joe Judge and general manager Dave Gettleman both value.
The Giants already have running back Saquon Barkley and Nate Solder, the only captains who were voted by their peers last year as returning to the team in 2020.
But Barkley and Solder can't do it by themselves.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't allowed for the players to assemble inside the team's facility, that doesn't mean that leaders aren't beginning to emerge on the team.
"You can see a lot of guys from interactions in meetings. You can see who is going to take the reins and start the communication," said Judge last week.
"You can identify from different players who are standing out front and organizing some extra communication exercises on their own at the time. You still have the ability to see who is stepping out in front."
Judge didn't name any names, but several veterans likely fit the mold that the head coach is looking for. Here are just a few of the possibilities.
Quarterback Daniel Jones
Jones' admission that having Eli Manning around made for some awkward moments doesn't come as a surprise if you understand the dynamics of the NFL hierarchy.
As the starting quarterback, Jones is the leader of the offense. Because of the sudden change in plans last year to bench Manning, a long-time team captain, and start the clock on Jones' NFL tenure, it put the young man in an awkward situation. Jones won't come right out and admit it, but he probably felt uncomfortable speaking up knowing that the guy right behind him had a heck of a lot more experience and a stronger voice.
With Manning having ridden off into retirement, this is now Jones' team. He no longer has a reason to be reluctant to speak up so long as he continues to put in the time and do everything possible to show his teammates that he's not just a leader in name only.
Cornerback James Bradberry
The Giants agreed to a three-year, $45 million contract with Bradberry back in March.
A guy who was drafted in the second round by Gettleman in 2016 when he was the general manager of the Carolina Panthers, Bradberry immediately had an impact on their defense. Bradberry was named one of the Panthers’ starting cornerbacks by head coach Ron Rivera.
Over his four years in Carolina, he became one of the team’s leaders on defense, while also acquiring valuable experience in setting the example for his younger teammates.
A couple of years into his tenure with the Panthers, Bradberry became a mentor to fellow corner Donte Jackson after he was drafted in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
After being signed by the Giants, he recounted to the media how he helped Jackson learn how to get better in zone coverage.
"I was just trying to help him learn how to break down film and watch film and make sure I stayed on top of him about watching tape because that’s how you anticipate routes, within film coverage,” Bradberry said of mentoring Jackson.
The Giants defensive backs, and in particular their corners, are still very much a young group that would probably benefit from having a seasoned veteran leading the way. Bradberry can and probably will be one of those guys.
Inside Linebacker Blake Martinez
Martinez signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the Giants earlier this offseason. He’s also a Stanford graduate, having played for four years under head coach David Shaw.
In 2019, Martinez was one of the best players on the Packers’ defense, leading the team in total tackles with 155. Perhaps more importantly, he became their defensive leader.
Now that he’s with the Giants, Martinez will be one of the team leaders in the locker room, where he'll reunite with Patrick Graham, the new Giants’ defensive coordinator.
Graham and Martinez worked together when the former was the Packers’ inside linebackers coach during the 2018 season.
This familiarity will undoubtedly come in handy this season, as Graham will be relying on him to mentor the younger players on the Giants’ defense.
Even back in 2018, Graham recognized that Martinez had the qualities necessary to be one of the guys that other players look up to.
He once told the Green Bay media during a press conference that Martinez was “developing and growing” as a leader. By the time his tenure with the Packers was over, it was apparent that Martinez had stepped up and fully taken on this role.
Receiver Golden Tate
Tate’s tenure with the Giants did not exactly get off to the best start last year, as he was suspended for the first four games of the 2019 season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
He appealed the suspension, but the NFL denied it. Entering his second year of a four-year contract, Tate has the opportunity to have a fresh start under Judge.
Now entering his 11th season in the NFL, Tate has plenty of experience under his belt. He’s played for four different teams and won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks in 2013.
When the Giants signed him in March of 2019, Tate spoke with the Giants’ beat writers during a conference call about wanting to mentor younger receivers.
“I’m going to teach all of our guys every piece of knowledge I can find,” he said.
Tate also talked about how being a leader could help the Giants finish with a better overall record.
“If I can help the guys around me to play their best, I have a feeling that’s going to help our team collectively, and it’s going to help us win more games,” he told the beat writers.
Quotes like those are precisely what Gettleman and Judge want to hear. The Giants will look toward Daniel Jones as their prominent leader on offense, but Tate can be the guy who mentors younger receivers.
It appears as though he’s already had an impact on Darius Slayton, who had an impressive rookie season in 2019. Tate should continue to be a leader and teach guys like Slayton, Corey Coleman, and Sterling Shepard in 2020.
Running Back Dion Lewis
Lewis is entering his 11th season in the NFL. Additionally, he already has some familiarity with Judge, having played with the Patriots from 2015-2017.
Although Lewis is not likely to get a lot of playing time seeing that he’s behind Saquon Barkley on the depth chart, he can still impact the Giants this year.
Even though he was the backup to one of the best running backs in the NFL last season, he proved to be a useful player for the Tennessee Titans. Lewis recognizes the importance of being a leader, as was evident in an interview he did before the 2019 season.
“Everybody knows what I can do, so I’ve just got to come out here and try to show leadership by working every day, try to be consistent. This team wants to be a great team, so we’ve got to be consistent every day,” Lewis once said.
This is precisely the kind of attitude that Judge and Gettleman will want him to have with the Giants this season. In that same interview, Lewis went on to talk about how it doesn’t matter how many reps he gets because it’s all about what’s best for the team.
“Whatever role I get, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability. Go out there, stay in the game plan, and do what my team needs me to do,” he said.
Lewis should fit in perfectly with the Giants. His experience and willingness to be a leader for younger players such as Barkley should help the make the offense better.
Safety/Special Teams Player Nate Ebner
The Giants didn't retain Michael Thomas, a special teams captain for them for two seasons who signed with Houston. Also, long-time special teams captain ZakDeossie appears to be finished in the NFL. Those two players leave a significant leadership void on the Giants special teams.
Don't be surprised if Nate Ebner, whom the Giants signed from New England, fills that role. Ebner has made his NFL living on special teams, having, for years, paired with one of the best in Matthew Slater.
Given Judge's special teams background, no one knows the value of having a strong voice in a room that is typically a collection of offensive and defensive players trying to come together as one functioning unit.