But, without Joe Judge as the closer, these players might have walked.
Navigating through his second offseason with the Giants, Judge showed he can deliver the goods, when it comes to convincing outsiders that his way is the right way and his Giants are on the right track. With his straight-ahead, lay-it-all-out-there approach, Judge inspected the merchandise in free agency before his team made a purchase. Sight-unseen signings may work for some players, but not for the big-ticket ones, not as long as Judge is tasked with approving who gets added to his roster.
Still relatively new at this and coming off a 6-10 debut season, Judge’s prowess as a recruiter furthered the belief he will be the Giants’ head coach for quite some time.
In year No. 1, ownership and the front office witnessed how Judge was able to cajole his own players into buying in. Moving into year No. 2, that Judge was able to convince prominent free agents such as Kenny Golladay and Adoree’ Jackson to leave their homes for multiple-day visits to the Giants reveals there is growing intrigue for the program Judge is building. That Golladay and Jackson, after meeting and getting grilled by Judge, still wanted to come aboard demonstrates what an asset he has become.
This was the unknown and the risk when the Giants signed off on hiring Judge, then a 38-year-old special teams coordinator, as their head coach. Could he lead the players he had and also convince others to join in?
“We’ve gotten enamored with believing players want to be coddled and you need a player’s coach,’’ Tiki Barber, the Giants’ all-time leading rusher, told The Post. “What these guys actually want is a coach they respect, that they can believe in and they know he’s not one way with some people and another way with other people. It is a testament to coach Judge.’’
The evidence, after a stunningly effective (and expensive) free agent spending spree, is clear: Judge is making the Giants relevant.
“It’s a destination again,’’ Barber said. “The New York Giants are a place people want to come play.’’
No one is kidding themselves here. The Giants wrote a $74 million contract for Golladay and put together a $39 million package for Jackson. Those are the main reasons they’ll be donning blue this season. Without the positive vibes Judge triggered, though, these deals would not have gotten done.
Players can be taken aback by Judge’s direct manner. It did not take long for the Giants of 2020 to learn Judge says what he means and means what he says. If Golladay or Jackson had needed to have verbal bouquets thrown their way, they would not have come away impressed with Judge.
“Joe Judge takes the glitz and glamour out of it and brings it back to fundamentals and football and team-first mentality,’’ safety Logan Ryan said. “That is refreshing for guys to know they are going to get pushed on the practice field and be pushed to be better players and work together to play winning football. Some guys still believe in getting coached up, like ‘I want to be great and Joe Judge has been a part of great organizations and he seems like a great coach, they have great players over there, I want to play over there.’ ’’
That Ryan sprang into action to help sway Jackson and that Jabrill Peppers dined with Golladay before the deal got done shows Judge’s lieutenants have his back.
Jackson said his conversations with Giants players convinced him “they understand what [Judge] is looking for and what he wants — just everybody being on the same page and being cohesive, that’s the biggest thing.’’ Golladay said after hearing the vision laid out by Judge and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett “they had me right there.’’ Veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph said he had “12 or 13’’ teams interested in him, but after getting off the phone with Judge and Garrett, he told his wife during lunch “I knew New York was the place that I needed to be.’’
Players need to know their head coach has the juice to get talent that walks in the door to stay in the building. That Judge was able to do it resonates with those with him in 2020 and back for more.
“It’s a different mentality coach Judge has brought,’’ Barber said. “He’s so real. It’s refreshing to have that in New York. That’s the biggest change, these guys are excited about where this team is headed.’’
That is the way a team feels when it knows it has a reliable closer.