“I think one thing to keep in mind with this season is we had a lot of people opt in to this season. OK? We had a lot of people opt in. Coaches, players, that includes family members as well...There’s a number of sacrifices made by the players and coaches in this league, there’s a number of sacrifices as well that come along with the family members and the people connected to them.”
Offensive tackle Nate Solder understands Judge’s words better than most.
Solder opted out of last season due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. Below is the statement he released back in July 2020:
Solder explained his family concerns, including his son’s battle with cancer and his own personal bout with cancer. Solder and his wife, Lexi Allen, also had a newborn son at the time.
After a year away from the game, Solder knows from personal experience what it means to opt in or out of playing football. He has perspective on the sacrifices made and a newfound appreciation for what it means to be on a football field again.
“One of the great things about coming back is just the opportunity to work with a group of guys,” Solder said, speaking to the media with a smile on his face. “Who cares who starts. I just want to be a part of an excellent group that’s getting better every day that plays at a really high level and I’ve been fortunate enough to play with some great O-Lines, and whoever cares, nobody cares who is starting and who is not starting because we’re all part of the team and we’re all necessary and we’re all needed. So, if I can encourage, protect, guide, lead and compete, whatever it takes, I’m here to do it.”
The team-first mentality involved in not caring about starting is unique and it mirrors the belief expressed in Judge’s words six months ago. Playing professional football is a privilege and it is one that Solder is fully prepared to embrace.
“I’m just thankful they gave me the opportunity to come back,” Solder said. “There’s no guarantees with that.”
In his short time back with the Giants, Solder has enjoyed the feeling of camaraderie that comes with being in a locker room again. He appreciates being part of something bigger than himself.
“I’m an open book,” Solder said “I have so much to learn from all those guys, and there’s so many ways to skin a cat and it’s been good. I really appreciate the way they are doing things.”
Solder did not only make a sacrifice to opt out of last season, but he made a sacrifice to come back to the Giants. His 2021 salary was reportedly cut to $3 million, which is a significant decrease from the previous $10 million. Essentially, Solder’s contract was restructured to become a new two-year, $6 million deal with $3 million guaranteed.
“My mindset was if I can be somewhere where I’m fulfilling my purpose, where I can be around guys that have the same set of values and goals and myself, it’s a real honor and it’s a privilege to be part of the NFL,” Solder said. “I would say I missed the excitement and fun of being a part of it, so I’m fortunate to be in this position.”
Solder’s grace also extends to the field as he remains uncertain about how the Giants would like to use him on the offense. He has worked mostly at right tackle during mini-camp, a position he has not played since 2011.
“I’ve been on enough teams where there’s six, seven off the bench that there’s significant time, so I don’t know what that’s going to be,” Solder said. “Who knows? They are going to game plan something up, and I’m hoping to get some time on the field but whatever the case is going to be, I’m going to work my tail off and be the best I can to support the guys around me.”
Solder has, of course, not had live-game experience for some time but he said that he tried to remain as prepared to play as possible during his year away.
“I was in my backyard doing pass sets and I got a weight set down in my basement, stuff like that,” Solder explained. “It’s been different, and as like everyone, you know, it’s a little transition back here into regular life again, but it’s nice to get back in the weight room with all the guys and back on the field and I’m getting better every day as much as I can.”