EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Nate Solder had a big smile on his face before starting an interview with a few members of the media following his first day of training camp with the New York Giants in almost two years.
It was obvious the 33-year-old offensive tackle was happy to be back after sitting out the 2020 season because of concerns for himself and his family with the COVID-19 pandemic raging.
The decision was not an easy one for the now 10-year veteran who was signed by the Giants as a free agent in 2018 for $62 million over four years. Sitting out cost him $9.9 million in salary. In return, he was paid $350,000 as a high-risk opt out.
At his age, it could have been a career in jeopardy.
Solder insisted there was something far more important than money: his family. His son, Hudson, was having treatment for cancer last year. His wife, Lexi, was pregnant with their third child, Emerson, who would be born in May. The couple also had a daughter, Charlie, who had her tonsils out in May.
“I’ll say this. I had the opportunity to sacrifice my career and everything for something far greater with my family, and I will never question that or regret that. Not at all,” Solder said Wednesday after the Giants finished their first practice.
Solder, who had testicular cancer in 2014, said the Giants are always going to have a left tackle, whether it’s him or somebody else.
“My family needs me as a dad and husband,” Solder said “So that’s my first and most primary critical role.”
Solder said he did not decide until earlier this year to return. The Giants wanted him back but they got him to renegotiate his contract. He is making a base salary of $3 million and a renegotiated bonus of $2.5 million. His cap hit is $9.5 million, a plus for the team after it originally was $16.5 million.
Solder isn’t the only Giants offensive lineman whose career was hit by the pandemic. Will Hernandez had been the starting left guard since being drafted in the second round in 2018. Solder was guy who lined up next to him.
Hernandez started last season in his usual position but tested positive for COVID-19 in late October and was sidelined for two weeks. When he returned, rookie Shane Lemieux was starting in his spot, and that never changed the rest of the season.
“Sometimes there are things that happen to you that you just can’t control and that was one of them for me,” Hernandez said. “I didn’t like it at all, but I had to deal with it, and all that time that I missed because of it has just taught me how much more important the time that I have now is.”
Hernandez worked hard in the offseason, lost 20 pounds and added a lot of muscle. He has the look of a player wanting back in the lineup.
Solder and Hernandez are starting camp coincidently a little out of place, working on the right side of the line. Andrew Thomas, the first-round pick last season, seemingly is set as the left tackle, with Lemieux working next to him again.
The right guard and tackle spots are open. The Giants cut guard Kevin Zeitler in a salary cap move after last season, and Cam Fleming, who started at right tackle, was not re-signed.
Hernandez said he played right guard in high school so he knows the position. Solder played right tackle as a rookie in his first season with the New England Patriots in 2012.
“I’m totally open to whatever the team needs and wherever that is,” said Solder, expected to battle second-year pro Matt Peart for the right tackle job. Peart came to camp with a back problem and is not ready to go.
Solder won’t make any predictions about the line, which has Nick Gates returning at center.
“It’s the first day of camp. We’ve got so much work to do,” he said. “We’ve got a long ways to go before we can reach our potential. But that’s going to be an awesome thing.”
NOTES: The Giants removed running back Sandro Platzgummer from the reserve/non-football injury list. … TE Kelvin Benjamin, attempting a comeback after missing two seasons, left the field shortly after practice started. He was released later in the afternoon. … TE Rysen John was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday.
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