Antoine Bethea has been a very good player in the NFL for a very long time — 13 years, to be exact. The New York Giants, having signed Bethea to be their free safety, are banking on the idea that the soon-to-be 35-year-old Bethea has at least one good year left.
Let’s take a look at Bethea as we continue breaking down the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp.
2018 season in review
Bethea started and played in all 16 games for the Arizona Cardinals, the ninth time in 13 years he has played 16 games. He played more than 1,000 snaps (1,111) for the ninth time. He made 121 tackles, the seventh time in his career he had made more than 100. The fact that 100 of those — a career high — were solo tackles is probably not a good thing. The Cardinals won just three games.
Bethea might no longer be able to match the 4.39 40-yard dash he ran coming out of Howard in 2006, but he still showed the range to play free safety for Arizona. He gave up 6.9 yards per reception, per Pro Football Focus, a career low.
“It’s all about being consistent, taking care of your body as far as that longevity,” Bethea said when he signed with the Giants. “Coming into the league, I was fortunate to walk in the locker room and be around some greats. (Pro Football Hall of Famer WR) Marvin Harrison, (Former Colts/Broncos QB) Peyton Manning, (Former Colts TE) Dallas Clark, (Former Colts WR) Reggie Wayne. Those guys taught me how to be a pro. I think that’s one of the things I hang my hat on, of being a pro’s pro -- coming to work, and being where my feet are.
“Obviously, having some longevity in this league is something a lot of people can’t say, and I hold that close to my heart, but as far as myself, I still feel good. If I didn’t feel good, I wouldn’t put myself in a situation to go out there and put bad film out there. I still believe in my play, I still believe in myself, I still believe I can go out there and play at a high level. So, that’s what I expect to do, that’s what I expect out of myself.”
Truthfully, the bar isn’t all that high for Bethea to be an improvement over what the Giants had at free safety a season ago. Curtis Riley missed a tackle once every 3.9 attempts last season. Only ex-Giant Andrew Adams (one every 3.6 attempts) was worse among players who played 300 or more snaps. Riley led NFL safeties with 23 total missed tackles. Riley was also last in the league among 64 qualifying safeties in run defense, with a 37.1 grade.
Bethea missed a tackle once every 8.1 attempts.
Defensive coordinator James Bettcher coached Bethea in Arizona, He said this:
“One of the highest character players I have ever been around, smart, intelligent and an unbelievable leader. As you have an opportunity to wrap your hands around him and embrace him a little bit, you will see what I am talking about with him. I was talking to him the other day and I was joking with him telling him that as time goes on, I get more gray hair. As time goes on, he gets younger. That is just when you see his play, that is what it has been. The years in the league have progressed for him. He has played fast and played young. That what impresses me about him.”
Bethea will be asked to stabilize the back of what will be a very young secondary. Jabrill Peppers is a third-year player. Grant Haley is a second-year player. DeAndre Baker, Julian Love, Corey Ballentine and 2018 supplemental draft selection Sam Beal will be taking the field for the first time as NFL players.
Here is what GM Dave Gettleman said when he signed Bethea:
“You need a guy in the back end that can get everybody lined up and make all the adjustment calls. If you don’t have that, you can’t function,” Gettleman said. “I’ve watched Antoine (Bethea) for years, you talk about a great sixth round pick. He is an adult, he’s a professional football player. He knows what he is doing, he can still play. I have this crazy idea that age doesn’t bother me. I better because my age doesn’t bother me. At the end of the day, it’s about a good football player. Antoine Bethea is still a hell of a football player.”
At 35, Bethea is obviously not a long-term solution for the Giants at free safety. The Giants are hoping he can stabilize their secondary in the short term, and help his young teammates learn the NFL ropes.