Jonathan Casillas jokes about being a lucky charm.
"Teams bring me in to win Super Bowls now, that's what they do," the linebacker said with a grin recently, recalling his rookie year with the Saints when they won it all in the 2009 season and his midseason trade to the Patriots last year, when they were crowned champions. "I think New York is doing the same thing."
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That part may not be a joke.
Though the Giants have four Lombardi Trophies in the lobby of their team's facility in New Jersey and have won two of them in the last eight seasons -- no other team has as many in the same span -- they are running out of Super Bowl experience on the roster. The hardware stays, but the players move on.
The Giants have only two current players who were on both of the recent championship teams in Eli Manning and long-snapper Zak DeOssie. Even the 2011 squad has been almost entirely purged from the locker room. Of the 22 projected starters for the upcoming season (excluding Jason Pierre-Paul from the conversation for the moment), only three of them have rings: Manning, Victor Cruz and Prince Amukamara.
In fact, they're the only three who have even participated in a postseason game for the Giants.
It used to be that teams would pluck talent from the Giants in order to infuse their own roster with a winning know-how and attitude. Now, though, after three straight seasons without making the playoffs, the Giants have gone from exporters to importers.
It's a big reason why Casillas and another recent Patriot, running back Shane Vereen, were signed as free agents during the offseason. Yes, they can help the team on offense, defense and special teams. But they also can help teach a very young and largely unsuccessful group of players how to get to the top of the league.
"I feel like I'm bringing that type of mentality to a team of guys, a band of brothers, that is trying to get there and trying to be better than they were in the past few years," Vereen said. "Hopefully, we can get back to playing the type of football that they're proud to say that they're playing."
In the last few years, they haven't been playing that type of football. They have been trying to siphon it from others, though.
In the 2014 offseason, the Giants seemed to round up as many players from the Broncos and Seahawks -- the two teams that played in the previous year's Super Bowl -- as they could. They signed cornerback Walter Thurmond and tight end Kellen Davis from Seattle and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and defensive end Robert Ayers Jr. from Denver.
That didn't work out very well. Davis didn't even make the team out of training camp and none of the other three made it through the season healthy. The Giants finished with their second straight losing season.
This year, they looked to New England to bolster their ring count.
It's not a unique approach. In fact, while it flopped for the Giants, it worked elsewhere in 2014.
"You can go back to the Patriots [last year], who did they bring in?" Casillas said. "They brought in Brandon Browner, who had just come off a Super Bowl win in Seattle. A guy that had a lot of experience and won a lot of games. I think that helps a lot, not only the rings but experience as well."
Not everyone needs it to be a contender, though. The Packers have only four players on their roster who have ever played for another team (by far the fewest in the NFL) and one of them -- James Jones, who spent the summer in Giants camp before he was cut -- was a Green Bay draft pick who spent seven seasons with the team before playing for the Raiders last year. They are the epitome of home-grown success.
Count Manning, the MVP of the last two Giants Super Bowls, as one who does not believe it is "a necessity" to bring in recent championship players to replenish the ones the Giants shed each year.
"I think you want to get guys who are hungry, guys who fit into what we're trying to do as a team," Manning said. "[Guys who] can buy into what we're doing offensively or defensively, who can be leaders. Just be able to do their jobs. I don't think one player is what it takes to win a championship, it's about when a team understands what it takes to commit as a team to win a championship."
But Manning does not put together the Giants' roster. The front-office signings of the last few years indicate a different desire. And even if the Giants don't express it out loud, the quasi-defending champions they bring in certainly feel an obligation to have some of the diamond dust from their newly minted rings fall on their new teammates.
A WINNING MENTALITY
Though both are coming off a Super Bowl-winning season, neither Vereen nor Casillas said he feels as if he is a true defending champion.
"I feel like it's a new team, it's a new page," Vereen said. "I feel like I'm just one of the components who is trying to help the team get to its goals."
"I've actually played on a team where we were defending [with the Saints in 2011] and I don't feel like that," Casillas said. "I feel like I am a new part of this team.
"Personally, I feel like I am a champion, last year's champion, I was a part of that team. But I don't feel like I'm a returning champion because of the team I'm on. Everything is new and I'm trying to help us get one. The New York Giants are not the returning champions, and I'm a part of the New York Giants."
Still, both understand that at least part of their mission here is to teach -- or in some cases perhaps remind -- their new teammates how to be winners.
"I don't feel like that's solely my responsibility," Casillas said. "I just try to do things the correct way and lead by example. I am a veteran and I know there are young guys who do watch me and see what I do . . . I've been around and I kind of know how this thing is going to go a little bit."
Vereen is more embracing of the role.
"They definitely wanted the winning mentality to come in, maybe the type of leadership qualities that that brings as well," Vereen said. "Hopefully, I can be that for them."