EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – He has won a Super Bowl, played in three Pro Bowls, and amassed almost 1,500 tackles in 13 NFL seasons. So no one would have questioned Antoine Bethea had he chosen to permanently store his football equipment and begin his retirement after the Arizona Cardinals released him last week.
"That never crossed my mind," Bethea said today. "I know I have a lot left in the tank. It was just one of those things that if I have to wait around, I will just wait and see. Just preview the land and see what is out there for me."
It didn't take long to find what he was looking for. This afternoon, he joined the Giants, who have made upgrading their secondary a priority this offseason. He can play either strong or free safety.
"That is something I pride myself on, being able to play both positions at a high level," he said. "It all depends on who I am playing alongside. I will be playing alongside Jabrill (Peppers, acquired yesterday in a trade with Cleveland) and he can do the same. I think that is going to play in our favor."
Bethea joins the Giants with a list of attributes almost as lengthy as his NFL resume, includingtalent (as those three Pro Bowls, 24 interceptions and all those tackles prove), experience (he has started 197 regular-season and postseason games), durability (the 2018 season was the eighth in which he started every one of his team's game), success (seven playoff appearances, including two Super Bowls and one championship), and familiarity with James Bettcher's defense (he played 15 games in the system in Arizona in 2017).
"I like that he is a coach that will listen to you," Bethea said. "He is a coach that will pull you aside and you can let him know what you think as a player, what you like and what you do not like. Not every time he will agree with you, but sometimes he will. As a player, you appreciate that. I like the aggressive style of play that this defense brings and the aggressive style approach that will change things up. You can play man and you can play zone. Seeing a five-man, six-man pressure. There is a lot of looks that you can give on offense."
Bethea will be a valuable mentor to Peppers, who will be a third-year pro in 2019.
"I will help him with whatever he needs," Bethea said. "That is the type of player I am. I want him to have some longevity in this league. Whatever he needs from me, I am going to be there for him. Whether it is on the field, off the field. Being a leader, that is what it's all about. That is what I hope I can bring to the defense, to this team. Some leadership."
Bethea entered the NFL as a sixth-round draft choice by the Indianapolis Colts in 2006. That season, he started all 18 regular-season and postseason games in which he played, and helped the Colts win Super Bowl XLI. The Colts returned to the Super Bowl three years later, but lost to New Orleans.
"It has been a long career, but I can remember like yesterday winning that Super Bowl," Bethea said. "The games that I have played in, it has been a long time since I have been there. I want to get back. That is one of the reasons you play this game, to lift that Lombardi trophy. I am going to do everything I can to get back to that point."
After playing eight years in Indianapolis, Bethea spent three seasons in San Francisco and two in Arizona before joining the Giants.
The 5-11, 206-pounder has played in 193 regular-season games with 184 starts – 123 at free safety, 56 at strong safety, and five at other positions in the secondary. His career totals include 1,415 tackles (962 solo), 24 interceptions, 9.5 sacks, 75 passes defensed, nine forced fumbles, and five fumble recoveries. Bethea was credited with at least 105 tackles in 10 of his first 13 seasons.
The 24 interceptions tie Bethea with Glover Quin for fifth among active safeties, behind Reggie Nelson (38), Mike Adams (30), Eric Weddle (29), and Earl Thomas (28).
Bethea also started all 13 postseason games in which he played, for the Colts from 2006-14 (seven at free safety, six at strong safety). His postseason totals include 75 tackles (59 solo), four picks, nine passes defensed, and one forced fumble.
Bethea, who will turn 35 on July 27, was one of the NFL most productive safeties in his 13th season in 2018. He started all 16 games at free safety and led the Cardinals with 121 tackles (100 solo), 21 more than any of his teammates. Bethea collected a career-high 3.0 sacks, one year after intercepting a career-best five passes.
Bethea was a standout football and basketball player at Denbigh High School in Newport News, Va. He played four seasons at Howard University, where he was a three-time first-team All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) selection. He was inducted into the MEAC Hall of Fame in 2015, and the Howard University Hall of Fame the following year.
After 13 years, Bethea is happy to be back on the East Coast.
"Back home I have a few Giants fans," he said. "My big brother (Alexon), he is a Giants fan. It is going to be fun being able to be close to home and have some friends and family to come watch some games.
"We know when one door closes another door opens. I am always eager to get going and meet the guys. Get back in the playbook and back on the field to get this thing rolling again."