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Giants' Nate Solder knows opting out in 2020 was the right decision for him

Credit: Daniel De Mato

Looking back now, there is not a hint of regret or remorse. And if Nate Solder had to make the decision again, it would be the same.

With not even a shred of hesitation.

The veteran offensive tackle opted out of the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, forgoing most of the salary he was due to earn for that season from the $62 million deal he signed with the Giants in 2018. But based on the circumstances surrounding his family, no amount of money could have changed his mind.

More importantly, his 5-year-old son, Hudson, was still undergoing chemotherapy treatments in his ongoing battle with a rare kidney cancer that was diagnosed at just three months old.

And there was more.

Lexi Solder was pregnant with the couple’s third child.

"There was one point where son Emerson] was born last May, our daughter [Charlie] had her tonsils out and Hudson was going through chemotherapy," Solder said. "It was a difficult period of time in the middle of a pandemic."

He knew where he needed to be, and it had nothing to do with football. It had everything to do with fatherhood and marriage.

"I’ll say this: I had the opportunity to sacrifice my career for something far greater with my family, and I will never question that or regret that, not at all," Solder said. "All of us in the NFL, we’re trying to be the best we can be, we’re trying to be a part of a good team, we’re trying to make money, we’re trying to do all of these things."

Solder knew in his heart that he simply couldn’t be away from his family at such a time of need.

"I’ve learned that all [career considerations] come secondarily to having a strong, healthy family and my family needs me more than anything," he said. "The New York Giants are going to have a left tackle. They’re going to have someone in my position. But my family needs me as dad, as husband, so that’s my first and primary critical role."

Talk about a man with his priorities in order. There is no better example than the 33-year-old Solder, who is back with the team after a one-year hiatus.

In the time he was away, the Giants drafted his heir apparent, Georgia left tackle Andrew Thomas, who started 15 games last season. But even though Thomas is entrenched as the starter at Solder’s old position, there still may be a place for him.

With right tackle Matt Peart missing the start of camp before being activated Saturday off the physically unable to perform list, Solder took first-team reps at a position he hasn’t played since his rookie year with the Patriots in 2011. And that was fine by him.

"I’m totally open to what the team needs," he said. "They’ve structured [the offensive line] where they have some young guys that are talented and have a lot of potential, and me with some experience. You just put all the pieces together and let them compete and work itself out and put the best five guys out there."

Improving the offensive line has been a top priority the last two seasons, and Solder’s subpar play in his first two years contributed to the problem. It therefore was no surprise that they drafted a younger lineman in Thomas, but right tackle has been a weakness. Solder, a mainstay with the perennial Super Bowl-contending Patriots before signing with the Giants, now has the opportunity to address that deficiency.

"We have a lot of work to do to reach our potential," Solder said.

It is a fresh start for a man who has been through plenty on the field and far more off it with his family’s health.

Grateful to be back, yes.

But more appreciative that his wife and children are OK.

Jets need more QB help

It’s a good thing the Zach Wilson contract dispute cost him only two days of training camp, because the rookie quarterback will need all the practice he can get as he adjusts to the NFL.

But the Jets’ quarterback room still isn’t what it needs to be heading into the season.

There’s every reason to believe that Wilson will need ample time to get up to speed in the pro game, and the Jets still need a veteran presence behind him. Not only to shepherd him through the early part of his career but to provide a functional offense in the event Wilson gets hurt or needs some time on the bench if there is a prolonged slump.

The Jets currently have Wilson, Mike White and James Morgan, a fourth-round pick last season. But White and Morgan simply are not qualified for either a mentorship role or a caretaker job if Wilson needs help.

Coach Robert Saleh has expressed confidence in White and Morgan, stressing that the Jets have invested time in coaching them. But that doesn’t mean they’re up to the task of playing a prominent role if called upon.

Blake Bortles is on the market after being released by the Packers once Aaron Rodgers’ situation was resolved, and Nick Foles is another possibility if the Bears, who drafted Justin Fields and signed free agent Andy Dalton, part ways later in camp.

It’s incumbent upon general manager Joe Douglas to fortify the position before the season.

Stakes increase for Judge

Joe Judge had about as challenging a rookie season as any head coach in any sport.

With no previous head-coaching experience, he took over the Giants in January 2020, inheriting a rebuilding team in a pandemic.

The result was a 6-10 season and a brief flirtation with a playoff berth after an 0-5 start. Not bad, but certainly room for improvement.

Like all coaches who strive to get better, Judge spent a good portion of the offseason trying to find an edge, and he took some unconventional directions.

"I think the majority of my job is managing time and managing people," he said. "That’s the biggest thing. I’m always trying to make sure to do the right thing.

"When I structured practice, going back to last year, how did that work out for us? In notes at the end of the day, how was practice? What were the shortcomings and what was something that was beneficial?

"The time management of time away to get the players back and healthy. The time management in the season of meeting with the coaches and making sure I’m giving them enough time to prepare and we also spend enough time together as a staff to be on the same page."

There were unique conversations with unexpected sources.

"I’ve spent a lot of time this offseason really working with different specialists in different realms, whether it’s sports psychologists, generational experts. I talked to a lot of Navy SEALs guys in the offseason, I’ve talked a lot with different coaches in different sports, whether it be professional lacrosse or women’s basketball," he said.

"I’m trying to find out how different people hit players because we’ve got an array of different backgrounds. We also have different generations. It’s important to understand the difference in Millennials, Generation Z and also the effects that COVID has had."

Bottom line: It’s all about people.

"It’s important to understand that each person has a different story, value set, and also understanding that as a generation of players, the reality is it’s different coaching rookies and coaching our vets," he said. "They’re just two different subsets. One guy has got a family and kids, one guy is just getting out of college and focusing on shoe deals and Combine preparation for the last part of the year. We’ve got to get these guys on the same page to be successful."

Rodgers rift remains

Yes, Rodgers is back with the Packers after an offseason filled with intrigue about whether he’d be playing elsewhere. But his brutally honest comments in a news conference shortly after he reported to training camp on Tuesday made it obvious that lingering with his lack of input on personnel moves will continue to be an issue.

Rodgers is the reigning MVP and led the Packers to the NFC Championship Game last year. But after reworking his contract and leading to the distinct possibility that this will be his 17th and final season in Green Bay, there is every reason to believe the exasperation he alluded to with reporters will not go away.

The fact that he and wide receiver Davante Adams simultaneously posted pictures of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in a "Last Dance" reference of their final season with the Chicago Bulls fueled speculation that this indeed will be it for Rodgers and possibly Adams, too.

There is a popular theory that Rodgers will be so motivated to show the Packers they’re wrong for not fully committing to him for the long term that he’ll lead them to a Super Bowl run. But Rodgers produced arguably his best season last year, and it still wasn’t enough to beat Tom Brady’s Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game. So while it would be a wonderfully dramatic storyline to win it all in 2021, it feels as if there’s a better chance this will end — again — in disappointment.

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