A month ago, cornerback James Bradberry didn't expect to be with the New York Giants. The chatter around Bradberry before NFL free agency centered primarily around the Washington Redskins as the top suitor because of the connection with his former coach, Ron Rivera.
Bradberry, who had been a four-year starter for Rivera with the Carolina Panthers, knew a reunion wasn't happening. He, somewhat characteristically, decided to keep quiet. The Redskins valued Bradberry similarly to the Panthers, and his representatives found out at the NFL scouting combine that he wouldn't be returning.
There were other cornerback-needy teams that seemed to be more realistic landing spots than Washington -- the Detroit Lions and Houston Texans were among them. The Giants, meanwhile, seemed preoccupied, despite money to spend and a desperate need at the position.
Bradberry's team was eyeing a lofty $15 million average annual salary. It wasn't necessarily a demand. Simply a projection and range that was nearly met when, as Bradberry explained, the Giants "came out of nowhere."
The CB search
The Giants were intent on shopping at the top of the free-agent cornerback market. It was imperative for them to add a veteran player to their ridiculously young stable of corners, a group in which Grant Haley, 24, was the most experienced and oldest of the bunch.
They began with cornerback Byron Jones, the former Dallas Cowboys starter, considered by most the top free-agent option. The Giants immediately were in touch with Jones' representatives when the negotiating window opened on March 16. Bradberry was next in line. As one NFL source explained before the the start of free agency, Jones and Bradberry were the clear-cut top cornerbacks available. General manager Dave Gettleman's intentions were also clear.
The Giants came to the realization quickly that they were not likely to win any tiebreakers on Jones, whose market was deep and his price steep. The Miami Dolphins, Las Vegas Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles were likely ahead of them for Jones, who eventually received a five-year, $82.5 million deal with $54 million guaranteed from Miami.
So the Giants turned their full attention to Bradberry, a solid and versatile player whom they liked. They were especially impressed with the way he covered some of the league's top receivers in 2019. It likely also didn't hurt that Gettleman, while the Panthers' GM, had drafted Bradberry in the second round in 2016.
The Giants went full-speed ahead at Bradberry. Former Tennessee Titans and New England Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan was another corner they had eyes on, according to a source with knowledge of the team's thinking.
It came down to the Giants and Lions for Bradberry's services, and New York had the highest offer. The Giants also had geography working in their favor. It made for an easy decision.
"I'll first say, of course, New York gave me a little bit more money. That always helps," Bradberry said on the Breaking Big Blue podcast. "And just the fact that in New York, the opportunities and the possibilities are endless with that city. There are so many people and companies that I'm able to touch now that I'm in New York. And, of course, I knew Gettleman, the type of general manager that he was, the organization that he's trying to build.
"I knew some of the players over there as well. I reached out to those guys and talked to them. They loved it over there."
Bradberry's consultants were some ex-Panthers on the Giants' roster (safety Rashaan Gaulden and linebacker David Mayo) and a training partner in offensive lineman Chad Slade, who re-signed with the team after last season. They all knew very little about the coaching staff under Joe Judge, but were able to provide favorable reviews about the organization as a whole.
Bradberry agreed to a three-year, $43.5 million deal six hours into the new league year. It has $31.8 million guaranteed, which includes $12 million in bonuses ($9 million signing bonus and $3 million roster bonus) with the first installment due last Monday. The bonuses have not been paid despite Bradberry signing the deal because he needs a physical from team doctors before the contract is official. That might take time consider the current situation.
It has left some concern as Bradberry works out at home while the country and the NFL have been paralyzed by the coronavirus pandemic. Admittedly, anything can happen, including a serious injury that puts it all in jeopardy.
"I try not to think about it," Bradberry said.
All he can do is sit and wait for the green light.
"That is why I'm not stressing about it. I can't do anything about it. It's part of life," he said. "There are more things going on in life ... like people being affected by coronavirus. I'm sending my prayers to those people being affected by that more so than me being worried by my signing bonus right now."
This is what the Giants are getting with Bradberry, who handled the personnel overhaul in Carolina by staying quiet, and it falls right in line with his generally reserved personality.
But now he has the big contract and the expectations that come with it. The doubts that have followed him since high school have not changed. He played primarily off the line of scrimmage in zone coverage in Carolina. The Giants are expected to play a lot of press-man coverages under Judge and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham.
"I don't know if he's a pure man-to-man cover corner," one personnel evaluator said after the signing.
Why is that?
"Lacks speed," the evaluator said.
It's nothing Bradberry hasn't heard before. In fact, it's the same critique he heard from power-conference schools coming out of high school in Pleasant Grove, Alabama, before landing at Samford. Bradberry remembers two schools telling him he was too slow.
That didn't stop him from being drafted No. 62 overall. From becoming a starter. From getting that coveted and lucrative second contract. And from making the move from Carolina to New York, where he can prove all over again to the Panthers, the Redskins and all the doubters that he is worth the hefty investment that the Giants ultimately made.