Breaking down the Giants’ options with James Bradberry, plus what we learned in the draft

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The NFL Draft provided the most insight to date into the program Giants general manager Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll are aiming to build. Here are some takeaways from their first draft and notes on other topics as the focus shifts to the next phase of the offseason:

• Schoen keeps referencing “contingency plans” that could keep cornerback James Bradberry, who has an onerous $21.9 million cap hit, on the roster. After failing to trade Bradberry during the draft, Schoen sounds like he’s ready to act.

The most likely outcome is that Bradberry will be released to create $10.1 million in cap savings, which will be needed to sign the draft class. But here’s a look at potential contingency plans to keep the team’s No. 1 corner:

1. Restructure Bradberry’s contract: Bradberry has a $13.4 million base salary in the final year of his contract. When Bradberry’s contract was restructured last October, a void year was added in 2023 to spread out the cap charges. The Giants could reduce Bradberry’s $13.4 million salary to the $1.1 million minimum with a restructure. The $12.3 million difference would be converted into a bonus that can be spread equally over 2022 and 2023.

The result would be $6.2 million in cap savings this year, while increasing Bradberry’s 2023 cap hit to $7.5 million. Bradberry would still become a free agent after this season, which would leave the $7.5 million as dead money on the 2023 cap.

The Giants don’t need Bradberry’s approval if they go this route because all of the team’s veteran contracts contain “automatic conversion” language. This option wouldn’t be particularly appealing to the Giants, however, since they’d only save $6.2 million and they’d need to make additional moves to create the necessary cap space. Plus, they’d be adding $6.2 million onto next year’s cap.

2. Add more void years to Bradberry’s contract: Teams can spread bonus money over a five-year span. So the Giants could make the same step as the first proposal, reducing Bradberry’s salary to $1.1 million and converting $12.3 million into a bonus. If they add four void years, that $12.3 million would be spread over five years on the cap.

The result would be $9.8 million in cap savings this year. The $9.8 million pushed into the future would all accelerate onto the 2023 cap when the contract voids next offseason, bringing the dead money total to $11.2 million.

Bradberry would have to agree to these new contract terms. The appeal of this option is that it’s highly unlikely that he’ll earn his full $13.4 million salary elsewhere if he’s released at this stage. But he might want a change of scenery, especially after it’s been clear that the new regime has been looking to dump him. Bradberry could turn down this proposal, request his release and then aim to make as much money as possible on the market while having a say in what team he joins.

This option would be the best way for the Giants to keep Bradberry and maximize their savings this year. But Schoen has shown no interest in pushing money into the future, so that $11.2 dead money charge in 2023 would be unappealing.

3. Restructure Leonard Williams’ contract: If the Giants decide to keep Bradberry and they don’t want to adjust his contract, they can create close to $10 million by restructuring defensive lineman Leonard Williams’ contract. The Giants could do a less drastic restructure with Williams by also restructuring wide receiver Kenny Golladay’s contract to create the same savings, but pushing any money into the future with Golladay is a dicey proposition after his rough first season in New York.

The Giants could reduce Williams’ $19 million base salary to the $1.2 minimum. The $17.9 million difference would be converted into a bonus that can be spread equally over 2022 and 2023.

The result would be $9 million in cap savings this year, while increasing Williams’ cap hit to $35.3 million in 2023, the final year of his contract. That’s an astronomical cap hit for a solid defensive lineman, so the Giants would likely add void years to Williams’ contract to spread out the cap strain, but let’s not worry about that unless they go this unlikely route.

4. Extend Bradberry’s contract: This ship has sailed. If the Giants were interested in extending Bradberry to create cap space, they would have made that a priority at the start of the offseason. Whether the new regime believes the 28-year-old is in decline, isn’t a good fit for the defense or a combination of the two, there have been so signs of interest in keeping Bradberry.

So while an extension could have a similar cap impact as adding void years, it would be quite a reversal for the Giants to make a lucrative multiyear offer that Bradberry would accept after they spent the whole offseason trying to unload him.

The Giants have plenty of cap space in 2023 if they choose any of these options. But Schoen has referred to pushing money into future years as a “last resort.” He seems intent on taking his medicine this year, much like the Bills were willing to carry $50 million in dead money in Schoen’s second year as Buffalo’s assistant GM.

Releasing Bradberry would make the 2022 Giants worse, but Schoen is committed to putting the team’s cap in the best possible position in the future. With no trade market materializing, it appears that Schoen is out of options and he’ll have to make a call on Bradberry soon. With none of the Giants’ contingency plans looking particularly appealing, Schoen will likely have to cut ties with one of his best defensive players.

• The Giants have $6.2 million in cap space, according to the NFLPA database. They’ll need approximately $12.8 million to sign their draft class, plus about $5 million more, at minimum, to operate during the season.

The draft picks won’t factor into the cap accounting until they sign their contracts. Last year, three of the Giants’ picks signed their contracts before rookie minicamp, two others signed two weeks later and wide receiver Kadarius Toney signed in early June before mandatory minicamp. In 2020, most of the draft picks didn’t sign until just before the start of training camp in late July. So the Giants could have over two months until they need to create cap space for the draft class.

• Daboll’s plans for the offense came into focus with the second-round selection of Kentucky wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson. When Daboll and Schoen were in Buffalo, the Bills placed a premium on receivers who can create separation without much of an emphasis on size.

The Bills’ receiving corps last season featured Cole Beasley (5-foot-8, 174 pounds), Isaiah McKenzie (5-foot-8, 173 pounds) and Emmanuel Sanders (5-foot-11, 180 pounds). They also signed 5-foot-11, 178-pound John Brown to a three-year, $27 million contract in 2019. Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka comes from the Chiefs, who had Tyreek Hill (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) and Mecole Hardman (5-foot-10, 187 pounds) in prominent roles.

That’s why the Giants didn’t have an issue adding the 5-foot-8, 178-pound Robinson to a roster that includes two receivers that profile more as slot options (the 6-foot, 193-pound Toney and 5-foot-10, 196-pound Sterling Shepard). Daboll is going to move receivers all over the formation, using their quickness to get open and pick up yards after the catch. Expect the Giants to mostly operate with three receivers on the field with some four-receiver sets mixed in.

The Bills and Chiefs weren’t opposed to bigger receivers — Buffalo has 6-foot-2, 210-pound Gabriel Davis, while Kansas City had 6-foot-1, 201-pound Byron Pringle last season — but the 6-foot-4, 213-pound Golladay doesn’t look like an ideal fit in the offense the new regime is creating. It seems like a safe bet that Schoen wouldn’t have given Golladay a four-year, $72 million contract last offseason.

• Schoen has a “vision box” for evaluating draft prospects.

“In the vision box, you tell me how that player compares to anybody on our roster,” Schoen said at the Senior Bowl. “So don’t just tell me he’s a fourth tackle. That doesn’t mean anything. So is he a fourth tackle that makes the team, is he a fourth tackle that beats out (Matt) Peart? Compare it to our roster.”

Applying the vision box helps explain the Giants’ picks. The vision for first-round picks Kayvon Thibodeaux and tackle Evan Neal is obvious: They should be Day 1 starters and major upgrades at their positions.

Robinson fits as a complement to Toney and Shepard or a potential replacement if the team trades Toney and/or if Shepard isn’t healthy. Third-round guard Joshua Ezeudu should be a legitimate challenger to start at left guard over Shane Lemieux, Max Garcia and others. At the least, Ezeudu will earn a backup job and bump a veteran guard off the roster. The addition of third-round slot cornerback Cor’Dale Flott seems like bad news for 2020 fourth-round pick Darnay Holmes.

Fourth-round pick Daniel Bellinger will be the blocking tight end to complement veteran receiving options Ricky Seals-Jones and Jordan Akins. Schoen and Daboll likely view Bellinger as the Giants’ version of Bills 2019 third-round pick Dawson Knox. The Giants only had two safeties on the roster entering the draft, so fourth-round pick Dane Belton is obviously viewed as someone who can contribute as a rookie.

The Giants took linebackers Micah McFadden and Darrian Beavers in the fifth and sixth rounds, respectively. They’ll compete with a group of late-round picks from the 2020 draft — Tae Crowder, Carter Coughlin, Cam Brown and T.J. Brunson — for playing time and roster spots.

Fifth-round pick D.J. Davidson should rotate with veteran Justin Ellis at nose tackle. Fifth-round pick Marcus McKethan will push veterans like Matt Gono for a roster spot as a backup offensive lineman with positional versatility.

The Giants selected former San Diego State tight end Daniel Bellinger in the fourth round. (Kirby Lee / USA Today)

• As the draft wore on, the Giants seemed to be targeting players with elite size and athletic traits. A website developed the relative athletic score, which grades players 1-10 on their size (height, weight, bench press), explosion (vertical jump, broad jump), speed (40-yard dash) and agility (three-cone drill, 20-yard shuttle).

Of the Day 3 picks, Bellinger (9.66), Belton (9.42), McFadden (9.46) and Beavers (9.6) rated as elite athletes, McKethan (7.89) was average and only Davidson (4.15) was poor.

“When you look at guys with developmental upside, if they have height, speed and character, the history of those guys developing is a little bit higher than others,” Schoen said. “Definitely when you get into Day 3, you do take that into account. It is important.”

Thibodeaux (9.63) rated as elite, while Neal didn’t have a score because he didn’t do any pre-draft testing. The 6-foot-7, 337-pounder ranked No. 1 on Bruce Feldman’s “freaks” list last year and executed a split box jump that must be seen to be believed, so it’s safe to assume he would have rated as elite if he tested.

Robinson rated as average (7.35) with very poor height and weight measurements and mediocre explosion. His 40-yard dash (4.4 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle rated as elite. Flott rated as average (7.46), while Ezeudu (8.36) had a strong score.

• It stood out how much time the Giants spent before the draft with the players they picked. The Giants hosted most potential top-10 picks for pre-draft visits, including Thibodeaux and Neal. Schoen spent extra time getting to know Thibodeaux, flying to Oregon to have dinner with the edge rusher before his pro day. Thibodeaux said he spent more time with the Giants than any other team during the pre-draft process.

It’s more interesting that the Giants hosted Flott, Belton and Davidson for visits. Teams are only allowed 30 pre-draft visits, which provide the most exposure to prospects during the process. So the Giants clearly identified Flott, Belton and Davidson as mid-round fits early in the process and then invested time to confirm their interest.

This approach isn’t a surprise because Schoen has mentioned multiple times that teams miss on the person more than the player in the draft.

“We want to feel comfortable with the individuals as well as the player,” Schoen said. “I think pretty much all these guys we spent a significant amount of time with, whether it was coming here or going to see them.”

Tracking the top-30 visits in the future should offer insight into prospects the Giants could draft.

• Knowing he needed to fill many holes, Schoen twice traded back early in the second round to add picks. He dealt No. 36 to the Jets for No. 38 and a fifth-round pick (No. 146) and then sent No. 38 to the Falcons for No. 43 and a fourth-round pick (No. 114). Those two trades yielded Robinson (No. 43), Belton (No. 114) and McFadden (No. 146).

The Giants missed out on highly regarded players at positions of need — cornerback Kyler Gordon, cornerback Andrew Booth and safety Jalen Pitre — by trading back in the second round. That’s the cost of getting extra swings. It’s a departure from the approach of previous GM Dave Gettleman, who locked onto players and resisted trading back (until last year). That method shrinks the margin for error, especially in the middle rounds.

Some of Schoen’s Day 2 and 3 draft picks drew skepticism. But by adding picks, he increased his chances of hitting on selections that are mostly dice rolls.

• The Giants traded the 11th pick in the 2021 draft to the Bears for the 20th pick in the 2021 draft, a 2021 fifth-round pick, a 2022 first-round pick (No. 7) and a 2022 fourth-round pick.

Here’s the final haul from that trade:

2021 first-round pick: WR Kadarius Toney
2021 fifth-round pick: The Giants used this pick and their third-round pick (No. 76) to trade up to take CB Aaron Robinson with the 71st pick
2022 first-round pick: OL Evan Neal
2022 fourth-round pick: TE Daniel Bellinger

It definitely hurts that the Giants passed on linebacker Micah Parsons and Rashawn Slater last year. But Toney, Neal and Bellinger, plus the ammo to move up for Robinson, has the potential to be a strong return.

• Schoen said when he got hired that he would evaluate the personnel department before making any changes. Co-director of player personnel Mark Koncz, who had close ties to Gettleman, is the only member of the front office who has been fired by Schoen.

Changes typically happen after the draft, which is when most scouts’ contracts expire. Schoen wouldn’t reveal his plans after the draft, but it would be surprising if there weren’t any staff changes.

(Top photo: Fred Kfoury III / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)