It is the most important tenet of Joe Judge’s coaching philosophy, a hard-and-fast rule that can never be violated without severe consequences.
"It has to be team first for every coach and player," the Giants' coach said Wednesday. "I am not going to tolerate putting up with any kind of selfish behavior from anybody, coach or player."
Golden Tate is now challenging that philosophy, and Judge will no doubt respond with a firm hand. In fact, he may already have done so. The coach said he had a long talk with Tate on Wednesday, announced that the receiver wouldn’t participate in a walk-through and presumably would be back at practice Thursday.
Judge didn’t go into specifics, telling reporters he doesn’t "believe in holding [a] trial for any of my coaches or players in the public eye. I choose to handle things internally, because it’s my job to protect the team."
And protect the team he must.
Even if it means getting rid of Tate.
Judge faces the biggest test of his young coaching career, a battle of wills he ultimately will win. There’s simply no way a 32-year-old wide receiver will bully a coach whose team-first credo is unwavering. Tate either will fall in line and help his young quarterback, Daniel Jones, navigate the treacherous waters of the NFL, or Judge must send him on his way.
Tate’s me-first antics in Monday night’s 25-23 loss to the Buccaneers made it clear he’s unhappy with his role in the offense. And it may have been his attempt at forcing his way off a 1-7 Giants team hours before Tuesday’s trade deadline. Tate yelled, "Throw the damn ball," toward the Giants’ sideline after making his first catch. And after he caught a 19-yard touchdown pass in the final minute to bring the Giants to within two points, he screamed, "Throw me the ball!" in front of the ESPN camera in the end zone. His wife, Elise, complained in a since-deleted Instagram post that Tate was not getting enough passes thrown his way.
Judge sidestepped questions about Tate after the game. He offered vague answers on Tuesday but still made clear what he expected from his receiver.
"His role is the same as every player on our team," Judge said Tuesday. "Show up to work, work hard, put the team first, and when you have the ball come your way, to make a play on it. If you’re not involved with the ball directly at you, [then] block, help the quarterback."
Tate is the first to overtly challenge Judge’s team-first mentality, and it remains to be seen if it will disrupt the team. As we’ve experienced with a handful of examples around the NFL, complaining your way off a team can work. It happened with Jamal Adams and Le’Veon Bell with the Jets, and Antonio Brown forced his release last year from the Raiders with frequent public criticism.
If the Giants don’t want to let Tate set an example for other players who might be disaffected and thus talk their way out of town, they can deactivate Tate by invoking a conduct detrimental to the team clause and thereby withhold his salary. Tate can challenge such a decision through the NFL Players Association, so that could bring up other unintended consequences that might prompt the Giants to avoid the designation.
Either way, Tate has created an untenable situation that Judge must respond to forcefully.
The Giants had hoped Tate would provide a positive influence on the locker room, especially in the wake of Odell Beckham Jr.’s trade in March 2019. General manager Dave Gettleman lauded Tate’s ability to create a positive culture and said he’d work hard to set the right example for the team’s younger receivers.
But Tate has created too many distractions, especially for a rebuilding team. His personal feud with Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey spilled over into a post-game brawl, although Judge absolved Tate because he didn’t throw the first punch. Monday night’s histrionics were the latest example of his self-centered attitude, something the Giants thought they were done with after the Beckham trade. Chalk up another loss for Gettleman, because Tate hasn’t been worth the trouble, particularly for a rebuilding team.
It is now up to Tate to decide his fate, because Judge’s decision is final: It’s his way.
Or it’s no way.
Your call, Golden.