Giants, Joe Judge are making right call sitting starters in preseason games

Daniel Jones in Giants t shirt before Giants Jets preseason game
Daniel Jones in Giants t shirt before Giants Jets preseason game

The dirty little secret of the NFL preseason is it’s a money-grab for owners and a waste of everyone’s time. OK, it’s actually not much of a secret. Veteran players know it. They always have.

Because while these games most certainly mean a lot for players on the bottom of the roster fighting to make a team, or backups trying to prove they deserve a chance to play more, it has never done much for the regulars – the players who know they are a part of the starting 22. That’s why no one should fret at all the Giants quarterback Daniel Jones hasn’t played yet, nor has Saquon Barkley, nor Leonard Williams, nor so many others who are likely to start on opening day.

Sure, after the last four seasons, you could argue that for the Giants, the more preparation they get the better. But they don’t need preseason games for that. They will all be ready on Sept. 12. And if they’re not, it’s certainly not because they didn’t get in a few meaningless snaps on Sunday afternoon.

Joe Judge wasn’t particularly specific on why he’s been sitting his starters, though he signaled his plan on Friday when he said his preseason objective is “to make sure we keep our overall players’ loads in consideration.” They had two intense days of joint practices with the Browns leading up to this game. They have two more scheduled with the Patriots up in New England next week.

They didn’t need the hassle of a meaningless game in between.

“With the volume and intensity they worked out with (in Cleveland), we thought it was best for the health of those players,” Judge said after the Giants’ 17-13 loss to the Browns. “We’re going into another competitive practice against the Patriots, and (sitting the starters) gave us a chance to really evaluate the other players on the roster.”

Judge added that the Giants’ preseason finale against the Patriots on Sunday is the one he plans on “treating almost like a regular season game” – which means playing his healthy starters and regulars at least in the first half.

Maybe that’s enough. Maybe it’s not. Most likely, it just doesn’t matter at all.

It’s actually become much more fashionable in recent years for coaches to sit their stars and starters for most of the summer. It’s been a slow creep, too, because for along time everybody played in every preseason game, though most only made a small cameo in Week 4. Then coaches began to sit starters in Week 4. Then some began to sit them in Week 1, too.

And now? Teams all over the league are just resting their regulars, hoping to get out of camp in good health. The Packers, in their game against the Jets on Saturday, didn’t dress 32 players. It seems unlikely Aaron Rodgers or Davante Adams will suit up in their preseason finale either. And that’s the same approach Sean McVay is taking in Los Angeles with the Rams.

Yes, it’s true Jones is no Rodgers and the Giants probably need a lot more practice than the Packers or the Rams. But increasingly, coaches are realizing that the best practice comes in practice, not in preseason games – especially for veteran players. Most veterans don’t get much benefit from a handful of series with no actual game-planning. Even for a guy like Jones, would a handful of series in the first two preseason games really have made him a better quarterback? No.

But one unexpected hit, one wrong step, one injury could definitely make the Giants a whole lot worse.

And while there’s an argument to be made that even veteran players need a way to ramp their game up to NFL speed, joint practices are becoming a more fashionable way to do that. They are more prevalent than ever because coaches realize they are more controlled. They can work together to script them, to keep players mostly out of harm’s way, and to blow a whistle and calm everyone down if they get a little too intense.

Sure, injuries can happen there, too. Just look no further than Carl Lawson and the Jets last week. But despite examples like that, there’s a belief that those practices are far less dangerous than games simply because they can maintain control.

That’s not to say there’s no value in these hard-to-watch games. Obviously they give a chance for unknown players to emerge. The next Victor Cruz isn’t likely to break through just based on practice. In fact, Cruz himself might still be a footnote –an local kid from Paterson who snuck onto the practice squad – if he hadn’t caught six passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns in that infamous, 2010 preseason game against the Jets.

But the Victor Cruzes, in reality, are few and far between. Coaches mostly use camp and preseason for finalizing the final 10 spots on the roster, for solidifying the players on special teams, for giving backups valuable reps they’re not likely to get once the season starts, and to work on their sideline communication and operation since this is the only time to see how that runs.

But for Jones, Williams, Logan Ryan, Blake Martinez, etc., who cares if they play? They will probably play in the preseason finale, and their performance will be overly dissected to the point of hysteria. But it still just doesn’t matter. Nothing the Giants do in that game with any effect on what they do on Sept. 12 and beyond. And neither did anything they would’ve done on Sunday against the Browns.

So yes, Jones absolutely could use the practice as he enters his most critical season.

And since the Giants’ offensive line is a work in progress, they surely could use the work. But don’t work. They can get plenty of practice in practice, too.