There is no generation more prepared for this offseason than the one Joe Judge is dealing with now. His first year as a head coach has been anything but ordinary, but like he said, the advantage goes to the team that adapts best from this point forward.
The New York Giants opened their virtual offseason program on Monday, a time that typically feels like the first day of school. But like many students around the world, it is all done remotely for the time being.
"All we're concerned about at this point, really, is getting a foundation ready through whatever means it ends up being," Judge said last week on a conference call. "We've been preparing for this now for some time, for these meetings to go virtual, we've got to communicate with our players through the conditioning program and have everything set up so that we can work with them.
"I think the advantage goes to whoever is best prepared from this point forward. I don't think any established program is at an advantage over anybody else. It's how you can find a way to communicate with your players and deliver a message. Whether you've been in the program for years or not, everyone has changes to their system, everybody has changes to what they're going to be doing in the offseason. They're going to have the same challenges of communicating to their players."
Meanwhile, Judge and the Giants' top brass are gearing up for the start of the 2020 NFL Draft on Thursday night.
Judge's new normal means his office is his basement. His co-workers are his wife, Amber, and their four children – Sean, Michael, Emma Riley and Ella Grace. His trusty assistant, meanwhile, is a golden retriever named Abby. And she knows the Giants' draft plans better than anyone else.
She gets to work early and stays there late with the Giants' head coach, sitting next to him on the couch 15 hours a day as he prepares for every possible scenario amid an evolving NFL landscape. While he keeps everything in perspective – "There are bigger things going on that ultimately what we do is entertainment and a means of escape for people dealing with much bigger issues" -- this is not a stay-at-home vacation. An important week lies ahead.
"I have told my kids that there are times I'm going to need them to get out of the basement or be present," Judge said. "Based on how we set up our draft board so that I can have a visual in my basement, I've already talked to them about possibly taking tags off the wall and organizing different things. I'm not looking to make this a vacation for anybody. We have a lot of serious work to get done. But it is still our house, and like everyone else in America is finding out, everyone is working with their family always present, and that's pretty true for us."
Michael Strahan joins Victor Cruz in must-see video chat
The Hall of Famer talked about everything from the best-case scenario for the Giants in the 2020 NFL Draft to refining his cooking skills. But first, he spoke about re-watching Super Bowl XLII for the first time when it re-aired two weekends ago. Making it even better, he was on a group text with the Giants' entire defensive line from that game.
"I was in the house screaming," Strahan said. "My girl is like, 'What is wrong with you?' I was ready to go, like I had to go downstairs and work out after. It gets me fired up, and being on a group text with the guys and just the memories of everything that went on around that game and that season and that week, it was professionally the happiest moment of my life. To be on the group text with the guys and just having that back-and-forth banter, the thing that surprised me the most was – I mean, I knew the game was hard-fought – but man, what a back-and-forth struggle and battle. And defensively, I didn't realize how dominant we were against that team. I was surprised at that, and I was in the game.
"It made me feel very proud to be a part of that. At that point, that was my 15th year, I was past all the personal accolades and being a star and making money and being the guy. I came back that season because I realized all these seasons I had been playing, I had been playing and having success, but not really enjoying. So I said, I'll go back, I'm going to play, I don't care about sacks, I don't care about nothing, I'm going to go, I'm going to have fun. It was incredible to watch it, man, incredible."
Earlier in the month, Cruz welcomed another special guest via video chat: Eli Manning. The two-time Super Bowl MVP spoke about what “Retirement Eli” is like.
"I don't know if it's quite totally kicked in and just hit yet just because I haven't missed anything yet from a football standpoint," he said. "I've still been working out kind of just staying healthy. I've kind of always had this trainer I've worked with a few years and I told him, when he knew I was going to retire, I still want to keep working out and doing things; we'll just change it up a little bit. I went for that first workout and he's like, 'All right, we've got squats today and we've got dead-lifts.' I said, 'I don't think you heard my conversation. I'm retiring. I'm not playing football.' He's like, 'Yeah, you've still got to do this stuff.' I thought it was just like do a few burpees and do some push-ups and it would be so much easier. But that wasn't the case.
"So I've kept up with my workouts. I do love playing golf. I will pick that up once the weather gets right and we're allowed back on golf courses. But I'm spending a lot of time with the family. I got to coach my 9-year-old's basketball team this year, which was awesome. I love doing that and being around them. They actually listen to you when you're around other girls. … They listen and realize I do know something about some sports."
Strahan: Giants need defensive playmaker and O-line help in draft
Strahan wears many hats these days, one of which is a football analyst. Cruz, who won his own championship with the Giants in 2011, asked Strahan about what the Giants need to do this week in the draft to help get back to the Super Bowl.
"I think defensively, they need a playmaker," Strahan said. "Like you need somebody who steps on the field and the other team knows they have to prepare for [him] every game … which I think will make everybody else around him better. They've got some guys who have potential to be that, but nobody's really stepped up to be that playmaker. And I think on every team, as you know – they have playmakers on offense – but there's nothing more demoralizing when you have a great offense or a great defense and you don't trust the other side because you know they don't have the playmakers you have.
"So the Giants, defensively, need a playmaker. I think, offensively, I like Daniel Jones, Saquon [Barkley] of course is a superstar, rock star, I like [Evan] Engram, I like all the things they've built over there. Defensively, they need to go out and they need to get somebody or a few guys who can really, really, really make some plays."
At the same time, no one knows the importance of protecting a quarterback better than a man who made a living on doing the exact opposite.
"You can't have that kid get back there and just start taking shots, man, because it'll kill your confidence," Strahan added. "The next thing you know you're looking over your shoulder at a ghost. So, if anything, offensive line and defensive playmaker – I like this linebacker out of Clemson [Isaiah Simmons] because that kid out of Ohio State [Chase Young] is going to be gone, long gone, but if we can get this kid out of Clemson, I think we wouldn't be upset at that, at all."