Why did James Bradberry's inevitable Giants release take so long?

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James Bradberry treated
James Bradberry treated

Joe Schoen has known since the day he took over the Giants that he would have to get rid of James Bradberry. It wasn’t by choice. It was a matter of math. The Giants were too deep in salary cap hell, and their top cornerback was too expensive. His departure was inevitable.

Now the moment finally happened. So why, after four months of knowing this day would come, did the Giants look so unprepared?

Maybe there was nothing big the Giants could have done to mitigate the loss of Bradberry from their secondary, but they probably should have figured out a way to do something. They did not sign even a cheap corner in free agency, knowing they would have to trade or release Bradberry, and they didn’t add one at all until the third round of the draft.

So their cornerback corps is basically what it was last season, minus the best player in that group, which is no small issue now that they’re running an aggressive, new defense that puts a strain on its secondary as it lives off the blitz.

It also won’t help that they’re in a division that just added receiver A.J. Brown (Philadelphia) to a group that already includes CeeDee Lamb (Dallas), DeVonta Smith (Philadelphia) and Terry McLaurin (Washington), plus rookies Jahan Dotson (first round, Washington) and Jalen Tolbert (third round, Philadelphia). It’s not exactly the wild AFC West, but this old ground-and-pound division is more pass-happy than it ever was.

And what do the Giants have to stop the onslaught? A lot of question marks, especially at corner. Adoree’ Jackson was their big free agent signing a year ago and he was OK in what was an injury-plagued first year. He’s the No. 1 corner now. His second and third will come from a mix of really young, untested players like Aaron Robinson, Rodarius Williams or Darnay Holmes.

Knowing that they would need to replace Bradberry, despite the mythical "contingency plans" that Schoen floated to possibly keep him around, the Giants figured to address that position in the NFL Draft. But they didn’t, not until their second third-round pick when 10 corners were already off the board. Some of that was circumstance – they would’ve taken Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner at No. 5 if the Jets didn’t take him at No. 4, and the Titans traded up in the second round to take a corner one spot before the Giants were scheduled to pick.

But they also traded down twice in the second round and took 5-8 receiver Wan’Dale Robinson at 43 instead of a cornerback, and they still passed on corners until they took LSU’s 175-pound Cor’Dale Flott 81st overall. And despite his hopes of pulling a financial rabbit out of his Giants cap, by that point Schoen had to know that his best corner was about to be gone.

The only question was how, and even that seems like a mistake – or at least a miscalculation. Schoen didn’t want to let a 28-year-old cornerback walk away for nothing, rightfully so, so he tried hard to trade him. But he misread a trade market that never really seemed to be there.

Jan 2, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; New York Giants cornerback James Bradberry (24) reacts after intercepting a pass against the Chicago Bears during the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 2, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; New York Giants cornerback James Bradberry (24) reacts after intercepting a pass against the Chicago Bears during the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

"I thought there would be more interest," Schoen said on WFAN. "There were some teams that showed interest pre-draft, and we had a couple different times compensation in place — and the contract never worked out. We did have good talks with other teams and [his] agent had good talks with teams. Sometimes if you are going to renegotiate a contract and you couldn’t come to an agreement, it is what it is."

It's not a terrible strategy to be patient to see if a trade market develops, but multiple NFL sources indicated he was never likely to get more than a third-round pick in return – and really that seemed unlikely to happen without the Giants picking up part of Bradberry’s $13.4 million salary, which would have diminished the cap relief they got in return. Schoen seemed to think that he might be likely to move Bradberry during the draft, but he had to know that corner-needy teams would prefer younger, cheaper players.

Not surprisingly, nine corners went in the first two rounds.

So what are the Giants left with? They get $10.1 million in cap relief, which is $2 million less than it would have been in March, before $2 million of his salary became guaranteed. They’ll need all of that and more for their 11-player draft class. They’ll probably sign a cheap, veteran corner, too, though at this point just about anyone who is even capable has already signed somewhere else.

In fairness to Schoen, he did do the right thing by allocating most of his few free agent dollars toward fixing the offensive line. And while he theoretically could have traded down in the first round of the draft and landed a cornerback once Gardner was gone, he did end up with edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux and tackle Evan Neal, and it’s hard to argue with that.

But there’s still that hole at cornerback. Bradberry wasn’t great last season, but he was a Pro Bowler the year before, and he’s still far more talented than anyone he leaves behind.

"He’s a starting corner in the league," Schoen added, "It’s just where we are financially."

Yes it is, but it’s also where they’ve been since Schoen arrived, and really, it seemed inevitable that Bradberry was done as a Giant long before that. There wasn’t anything Schoen could have done to change those circumstances. The best he could hope to do was make the loss easier to take.

But he didn’t. Or he couldn’t. He had a lot of time to figure out what would happen next and didn’t come up with an answer. And now the Giants still have a gaping hole in their secondary to fill.