They say you shouldn’t go to the supermarket on an empty stomach. It causes a person to make impulse buys, irresponsible purchases, and run up a bill that could blow the budget.
Joe Judge is heading into free agency with a full belly.
Not that he’s been gorging himself on wins. The Giants had only six of them in his first year as head coach, which is barely enough to sustain someone in his position even though it represents something of a marked improvement over the previous three seasons for the franchise. No, Judge has something else that is keeping him sated as the market for adding new players opens this week. Maybe even something more valuable.
He has time.
“I’m always a long-term picture guy,” he said this week.
So no quick-fixes. No desperation signings. Not that the Giants have much space to maneuver in free agency anyway.
They are just barely under the salary cap, have about 10% of their resources tied up in the franchise tagging of Leonard Williams, currently have a 33-year-old Nate Solder returning from an opted-out year away due to COVID-19 concerns with a cap number ($15.5 million), roughly the same as the five projected starters on the offensive line, and have $27.5 million in cap space allocated to paying off their big additions from a year ago in James Bradberry and Blake Martinez.
Patience isn’t just a virtue for the Giants, it’s their reality. Even though the Giants do have a sizable list of needs — wide receiver, edge rusher, cornerback, offensive line — there is hardly a way they can fill all or even most of them in the coming weeks.
“Well, there is a draft, right?” general manager Dave Gettleman said. “So, you don’t necessarily have to buy both [receiver and edge rusher]. We’re just going to see how it plays out, see what guys are worth and what the expense costs are, and just keep moving forward.”
But while Judge, 39, who is generally credited with lifting the malaise that had befallen the franchise since everyone snapped to attention when Tom Coughlin marched through the hallways, seems to have time on his side, Gettleman is working on a different clock. He just turned 70. He’s on his third version of a Giants rebuild that began when he took over in late 2017. He barely held onto his job after a miserable 2019 season.
It’s a strange dynamic for the Giants, opposite what most teams typically encounter. Here it’s the head coach who takes the long view and the general manager who feels the pressure to win now, a flip-flop of the norm.
It’s why Judge said the 2021 season is no different from the 2020 campaign (“It’s still about being committed to the process, that’s really the biggest thing right there,” he said) while Gettleman clearly wants to convince fans — and himself — that 2021 will be very different. “I think we’re just about there,” he said.
Last year they were both able to be satisfied. The Giants brought in talented players who performed well and did help them win those six games and nearly the NFC East title, including Martinez and Bradberry and eventually Logan Ryan and Graham Gano. But they also brought in a certain type of player, ones who they knew would buy in and respond to Judge’s demanding style. Nearly everyone the Giants added to the roster last season had experience with someone on the Giants’ coaching staff. They knew what they were getting into.
“It’s not fantasy football,” Judge said. “You can’t just grab a player, put him on your team and think everything’s going to work out. It has to be the right fit for your team going forward . . . The guys we have in this locker room have bought in. We have a lot of fun here through doing that, but we have a way of doing things. That’s not for everyone, to be honest with you. You have to make sure you bring someone in who’s going to fit the culture and who’s going to buy into what you’re doing, and that shares the same principles and values and team goals that you have.”
And, in a perfect world, helps shorten the timeline between what the Giants have been the past few years and what they hope to be. Sooner or later.
Five potential targets for the Giants in free agency:
Kenny Golladay, WR
In 2018 and 2019 combined, Golladay racked up the third-most deep (20-plus-yard target) receiving yards, with 930, and he tied for first in contested catches with 43, per Pro Football Focus . . . An injury-riddled 2020 slowed his production in a contract year . . . It’s a signing that would give Daniel Jones a true No. 1 receiver for the first time in his career and allow Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton to play roles they are probably better suited for.
Bud Dupree, LB
After a somewhat slow start to his career with the Steelers, Dupree had 20 combined sacks in the past two seasons, and that was while missing five games last year to a torn ACL . . . His versatility should work well in the Giants’ schemes . . . The Giants got a good first-hand look at him last year when he tormented them in the season opener.
Corey Davis, WR
The No. 5 overall pick in the 2017 draft who set new career highs in receptions (65), yards (984 yards) and TDs (5) on 92 targets in 2020 with the Titans . . . A willing blocker, which is something the Giants love from their receivers . . . The Giants haven’t had a big-bodied starting-caliber wide receiver like Davis (6-3, 209) for a long time. Maybe since Hakeem Nicks?
Malcolm Butler, CB
It didn’t take long after Butler’s release from the Titans for Giants safety Logan Ryan, a former teammate of his in New England and Tennessee, to start recruiting him on social media . . . Both Joe Judge and Patrick Graham also have familiarity with Bulter from the Patriots . . . He’s 31 and he would not have to be paid as a No. 1 cornerback (James Bradberry has that role), so he might be a bargain.
Haason Reddick, LB
Was a first-round pick of the Cardinals in 2017 but they decided to not pick up his fifth-year option last spring and to not tag him this offseason . . . He had 12.5 sacks in 2020, 5.0 of them in one game against the Giants, in his first year settling into the edge rusher position; before that he was moved around as a hybrid-type player . . . A New Jersey native could return home to a defense that already includes Garden Staters Logan Ryan and Jabrill Peppers.