The last few years, the Giants stocked up on former Cardinals. That was mostly because former defensive coordinator James Bettcher had coached there, so it made sense to bring in guys who were familiar with his system and with whom he was familiar. Enter Kareem Martin, Markus Golden, Antoine Bethea, Josh Mauro, Olsen Pierre and even Eli Penny.
Now Bettcher is gone and the Giants no longer are as interested in Cardinals. Unless they re-sign Golden, who remains a free agent, they’ll have only one of the above on their 2020 team.
They do, however, seem to have a new affinity for Cardinal. Stanford Cardinal.
Three of their bigger free- agency acquisitions last week — linebacker Blake Martinez, tight end Levine Toilolo and offensive lineman Cam Fleming — all attended the northern California university. (In fact, in 2012, they were all on the same Stanford team that went 12-2 and won the Rose Bowl.)
While that may seem like a coincidence, there probably is a little more to it than random luck. Given how new Giants coach Joe Judge has made it clear that he prizes intelligence among the members of his coaching staff and his roster, it’s probably by design.
Stanford is known for not only producing some of the top NFL players in the past decade (Richard Sherman, Andrew Luck, Christian McCaffrey) but for being one of the more academically challenging of the big-time football programs in the country.
“I think the biggest thing you look for on the field is smart players who can execute the assignment, who can play situationally aware,’’ Judge said when he was hired in January. “Tough guys, physically and mentally tough. Can they do what’s right for the team when it’s not always what’s right for them? And can they play through some discomfort? You want guys that play fundamentally sound. There are aspects you’re going to evaluate.”
Judge may not value brains over brawn, but both certainly figure heavily into the equation. Considering that he hired two coordinators this offseason who went to Princeton (Jason Garrett) and Yale (Patrick Graham), he and the Giants clearly are taking an academic-based approach to putting the entire team together.
That’s not to say a player had to have attended Stanford or Duke or an Ivy League school to catch the Giants’ eye. Judge himself went to Mississippi State. There are plenty of really smart players and coaches who played elsewhere, and the Giants aren’t trying to win a spelling bee or to calculus their opponents into submission. But having a school such as Stanford on a resume, as in any job football-related or otherwise, tells a lot about the applicant.
“There are things you can coach and teach and there are things you can’t coach and teach,” Judge said. “I’m not going to coach anybody to be taller or really faster . . . But there are going to be certain traits that are critical factors that we have to identify in these players, whether it’s a free agent joining our program or a college player we may look to draft. Regardless of their past, we have to know skill set-wise what we’re getting.”
Where they played in college is as good a place to start that investigation as any.