Joe Judge fully supports Nate Solder's decision to opt out of the 2020 season, which the offensive tackle announced Wednesday afternoon in a statement with his family.
Even if Judge did not have a history with Solder – the two spent time together in New England – the head coach said he would never talk him or any player into anything as the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic. Under the agreement between the NFL and the Players Association, players can choose not to play in the upcoming season without penalty. The opt-out is irrevocable.
"Not only have I known him, but I've had a relationship with him and his family," Judge said Friday on a video conference, his first time with the media since training camp began this week. "His wife [Lexi] is a great woman. Their children and what they are going through personally, this was not an easy decision. I don't want to talk for Nate, he has put out his own words. From an organizational standpoint we wanted Nate to play this year, but we fully support his decision not to because we absolutely understand what he is going through."
Prior to joining the Giants as a free agent in 2018 and immediately becoming a team captain, Solder spent six seasons (2012-17) with the Pats while Judge was as an assistant to Bill Belichick.
In his career, Solder has played in 130 regular season games with 127 starts – 113 at left tackle, 11 at right tackle, and three as a tackle-eligible tight end. He has also started 16 postseason games, including four Super Bowls (two of which he won). Left guard Will Hernandez, defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, and Solder were the only Giants to start every game in the 2018-19 seasons.
That streak will end for the incumbent left tackle, creating a void at a crucial position.
The news comes three months after general manager Dave Gettleman hoped to have fixed the offensive line "once and for all." That comment came in the wake of the 2020 NFL Draft, where the Giants used three of their first five picks on the unit. It began with the fourth overall selection of Georgia tackle Andrew Thomas, who started all 41 games in which he played in college – 15 at right tackle as a true freshman in 2017 and 13 at left tackle in both 2018 and '19.
Regardless of Solder opting out, Judge had planned to cross-train all his offensive linemen at multiple positions and different sides.
"We are going to have a competition for every position," Judge said. "We are going to have multiple guys playing inside at center and outside at tackle. We are going to play all of our tackles at right and left to start camp and see who fits best where. Once we establish who should be on either side, we will go forward. That being said, we want to cross-train all of our players. You can't just play right tackle or left tackle, or right corner or left corner. Based on depth and health of the team, it may require you in the middle or an entire game to play on a side you don't normally play on. All our guys are working to switch sides and mirror their technique and play effective for a game."
Third-year pro Nick Gates is a candidate at tackle, as is third-round pick Matt Peart, Eric Smith and free-agent addition Cam Fleming. Mike Remmers, who started at right tackle for the Giants last year, signed with the Kansas City Chiefs as a free agent.
"From a football standpoint, we have confidence in all of our players," Judge said. "We still have to get on the field and practice and evaluate them, and that's at all positions. Whether it's the offensive line, skill positions, defense or wherever it ends up being, we have to see these guys perform under pressure and handle the loads in install and see how they perform when they are tired and in direct competition. There's a lot of things that have to be done in a short period of time. We have to make good evaluations as coaches. I've got to set practices to make sure we can evaluate guys at multiple positions. We have to do a good job of making sure we see what every player does when he understands what to do and can play as fast as possible. That's our job as coaches and teachers."
Solder's status represents one of the many ways this year will be like no other in terms of personnel.
Even in normal circumstances, building a roster is an ongoing process that does not begin with free agency and end with the draft. The current health crisis has taken that notion to another level, forcing clubs to create a special reserve/COVID-19 list. Wide receiver David Sills V was the first Giant to be placed on it.
Clubs will also trim their rosters to 80 players soon, down from the usual 90-man off-season roster, to keep as much distance as possible around NFL facilities and stadiums. Health and travel restrictions add even more layers to filling out the bottom of the roster.
"This may be a different training camp around the league in terms of the time of the [waiver] claims," Judge said. "That's not going to eliminate the roster moving; 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. 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."
Judge added: "We don't have a definite answer on how the regular season is going to go. At this point, we are kind of assuming it is going to be very similar to what we are looking at right now with the testing and quarantine piece. … You can no longer work a guy out on a Tuesday, Tuesday night he is doing meetings, and Wednesday he's practicing with the team. It's important for us to establish depth. In terms of the practice squad, the league has allowed us to flex players up and down and the amount of veterans we can keep on the practice squad roster. That's going to be key for all the teams and how they manage those 16 positions going forward."
View photos of the Giants taking the field for conditioning drills as training camp gets underway.