Scrubbing the preseason, which was part of the NFL’s latest proposal to the NFL Players Association in regards to handling trying to play through the COVID-19 pandemic, is absolutely the proper thing to do.
As always with any decision, though, there are winners and losers. Let’s look at some of those winners and losers, especially as they relate to your New York Giants.
Winner — Player safety
Not having to travel through airports or on planes, not having to stay in hotels, not having to be in close contact with opposing players, coaches and team personnel to play games that don’t count. Those are all good things that will lessen players’ chances of being exposed to the virus.
Oh, it also means no key players will be lost to injury in meaningless games, either.
Loser — Joe Judge
I don’t like this one, but I think it is the reality. Judge is a 38-year-old first-time head coach and, though he will disagree, has already lost a ton this offseason with the fact that he has yet to hold an in-person meeting or run an on-field practice.
This is a brutal season in which to be a first-time head coach, especially one with a young team that is not yet established. Not having preseason games will make Judge’s job even harder.
The coach told me a few weeks ago that he would do everything he could to set up competitive practice scenarios. That’s all well and good, but the handful of real practices and the rules governing them are going to mean nothing he can do will truly match game conditions.
That will affect his ability to get full, true evaluations of the roster as he and his coaching staff decide who to keep, who to cut, and who to play.
There is another area where it could hurt the Giants. Judge has never run a game at any level. This coaching staff, while filled with experienced hands, has never worked a game together. There are all kinds of decisions that have to be made quickly on a sideline between plays or series. How will the communication between coaches work? Who talks to Judge and when? What about getting plays called in a timely fashion or getting sub packages on and off the field? How about working a two-minute drill or handling critical fourth-quarter decisions?
It sure would be nice if the Giants had at least a little bit of preseason time to give Judge and his coaching staff a chance to iron that stuff out before a snafu ended up costing them in a game that counted.
Winner — Fans
Well, sort of. And I know you might disagree with me because even if they are preseason games with no fans in the stands and end of the roster guys playing I know some of you would pretty much drool at the chance to watch any kind of football as soon as possible.
I look at it this way. Fans are losing because they can’t attend games. But, no preseason games is a win because when we get to the games that matter teams should be healthier and put a better product on the field than if a number of players had been lost to COVID-19 or season-impacting injuries in games that didn’t count.
Loser — NFL owners, TV networks
No games, no money. It’s really that simple.
Winner — Veteran players
Veteran players, at least the ones who know they have starting jobs or will at least make the roster, have been in favor of fewer preseason games pretty much forever. Increasingly, the most important players on teams are playing less and less — often not at all — in preseason games, anyway.
We will get into specific players with the Giants in a bit, but veterans are also going to be winners because of all of the lost practice time teams have already suffered. At bare minimum, coaches want/need to know that the players they are putting on the field know how to do their jobs, even if perhaps their physical skills have eroded somewhat.
That means in many instances veterans who already have the NFL figured out and know their jobs will have an advantage over younger players who still have to learn and prove themselves, both in competitions for starting jobs and probably end of the roster reserve spots.
Knowledge, as they say, is power. In this case, the veterans already have it.
One other area where veterans could emerge as winners is with the 2020 practice squad proposal — if approved — that would allow teams to keep six veteran players of unlimited experience to be stashed on practice squads in event of injury or illness.
Loser — Undrafted free agents
If veteran players are winners, then the young players — especially the undrafted ones — are losers. Those are the players who need spring reps to get the attention of position coaches, who need early training camp reps to build a case for roster consideration, and who ultimately need preseason game snaps to show coaches they belong, put play on film for other teams, or to gain valuable experience that will help them down the line if they do make it.
Now, let’s talk about some specific Giants players who are winners and losers in this scenario.
Winner — Spencer Pulley
If veterans are winners and young, unproven or undrafted players are losers — and former NFL center Brett Romberg and former NFL offensive line coach Paul Alexander are right that using an untested center is a recipe for disaster — Pulley has to be a winner.
He is the only true, experienced center on the current roster with four season in the league and 49 games played, including 26 starts.
Of course, if the Giants aren’t sold on Pulley the winner could end up being whatever veteran center the Giants pluck out of free agency or off the waiver wire to replace him.
Loser — Young centers
Nick Gates and Shane Lemieux both have their supporters in what coulda/shoulda/woulda been an open competition for the center job. Maybe I will be wrong, but from everything I’ve been told by people who understand offensive line play and the NFL better than I do asking these guys to be starting centers without so much as a preseason snap under their belts at the position is asking something that is nearly impossible.
You might toss in undrafted players Kyle Murphy and Tyler Haycraft, too.
Winner — Corey Coleman
Want to know who the Giants’ No. 4 wide receiver is likely to be, at least at the beginning of the season? Look no farther than Coleman. He’s got an NFL track record that includes at least some production as both a receiver and a return man. He’s still only 26. Experience matters at this point, and beyond Darius Slayton, Golden Tate, and Sterling Shepard he is really the only receiver on the roster with a significant amount of it.
Some of the plethora of other young wide receivers could eventually step up and earn playing time, but the guess here is that Coleman has the inside track on the WR4 job.
Loser — Matt Peart
No, the third-round pick won’t be in any danger of not making the roster. The common theme when talking to anyone about Peart is that he is a developmental player. Judge would say “developing,” but that’s semantics. Point is, if all goes well Peart will play very little if at all during the 2020 regular season.
As a developing player and a guy the Giants might like to see as their 2021 starting right tackle, Peart could really have benefitted from preseason game reps to see just exactly where he is at against NFL-level competition.
Winner — All of the backup QBs
Quarterbacks are always at a premium. If your starter goes down and you don’t have a competent backup you are going to lose football games. During Eli Manning’s time, the Giants didn’t have to deal with that. Eli, though, is gone. Daniel Jones already missed two games last season, so we know he — like other human beings — is fallible.
The COVID-19 pandemic puts an even higher premium on having a stable of quarterbacks. In a normal year you would look at the Giants’ 90-man roster, see five quarterbacks, and think that is too many.
This year? With the pandemic making it possible that one or more of the Giants’ quarterbacks will miss time due to illness, and practice squads expanded and allowing for a half-dozen veterans of unlimited experience, I can easily see all five quarterbacks sticking around.
How’s this scenario? Jones, Colt McCoy, Cooper Rush make the initial 53-man roster. Both Alex Tanney, as the veteran you would want to activate to be a backup due to injury or illness, and Case Cookus, as the developmental project, both make the 16-man practice squad.
Loser — Rysen John ... and probably others
I am singling out John, one of my favorite offseason stories and a kid I’m rooting for, as a guy who could be hurt by the lack of preseason and practice time.
This is a kid from a Division II school in Canada — a bad DII team at that — converting from wide receiver to tight end AND trying to figure out if he actually has the skills to compete against NFL-level competition.
His college coach admitted to me that best-case scenario for John is a spot on the practice squad while he learns for a year or two. The Giants, though, have seven tight ends on their 90-man roster. If they are going to keep one or two on the practice squad, Eric Tomlinson and Garrett Dickerson have some NFL experience, and undrafted Kyle Markway is an inline tight end who already has a more NFL-ready skill set than John.
There are other young players who will probably get lost in the shuffle. When I thought about specific ones on the Giants’ 90-man roster, though, John’s name is the one that leaped to mind.