October 6, 2022

James Bradberry, Sauce Gardner take center stage in Giants’ corner dance

James Bradberry (24) (Adam Hunger/AP)

The NFL Draft is a week away, and the Giants need a corner.

That was clear again at this week’s voluntary minicamp when Adoree Jackson, Aaron Robinson and Darnay Holmes topped the on-field depth chart.

James Bradberry is away from the team and is not expected to return to it, although GM Joe Schoen said there are “contingency plans” to keep him.

Bradberry, 28, saw the writing on the wall early this offseason that the Giants’ plans didn’t include him. He has a right to take offense to that as one of the team’s best players. And he is handling this diplomatically, likely staying away until Schoen trades or cuts him.

“We’ve gotten calls on James Bradberry,” Schoen said Wednesday, confirming what The News and others have reported.

Schoen is expected to trade the veteran corner. It just might not happen until after next weekend’s draft. The GM has been in touch with Bradberry’s representatives in the interim.

The Giants have a high asking price compared to what teams are willing to pay, which is understandable considering Bradberry’s pedigree. They don’t want to lose an asset for nothing. Getting a percentage of his $21.8 million 2022 salary cap hit off the books will be tough enough.

Suitors are now focused on their drafts, however, with opportunities to fill needs with a draft pick rather than through trade.

For example, the Houston Texans — one of the more likely landing spots in a potential Bradberry trade — hold picks No. 3 and 13 in next Thursday’s first round.

At this point, GM Nick Caserio might prefer to draft a corner with a cost-controlled, five-year rookie contract to help his rebuild instead of taking on and extending the veteran Bradberry.

But that could get tricky, because some league sources believe the Giants are high enough on Cincinnati corner Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner that he is in play at No. 5 overall.

Gardner and LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. are considered by many to be the two best corners in this class. Schoen was front and center at Gardner’s pro day. Offensive tackles and edge rushers are also options with the Giants’ two top-7 picks. Schoen might trade back out of one spot, too.

If any of the four teams ahead of the Giants draft a corner, though — namely, the Texans at No. 3 or the Jets at No. 4 — they might poach a player the Giants have had their eyes on for a while.

Schoen perked up during Wednesday’s press conference when a reporter told him he would definitely have a chance to take “the No. 1 cornerback in this draft” at five.

“There’s gonna be a No. 1 corner there at five?” he said, incredulous.

The reporter said he believed so.

“OK, then you’ve got the crystal ball,” Schoen smirked.

The Giants have nine picks in this draft. So they can address positional needs in other rounds, too. But Schoen has to judge where the best value exists for the Giants at these premier positions, while holding picks No. 5 and 7 overall in the first round.

For now, Bradberry technically is still on the Giants’ roster. He’s far enough out of the picture, though, that head coach Brian Daboll pretty much punted a question on the corner to his GM.

“Yeah, he’s on the roster. So it’s really not changed from what Joe has talked about. I know Joe is coming out here at 1. You guys can talk to him about that,” Daboll said this week.

Schoen said all the right things about Bradberry the person and player, which is smart, considering he wants teams to view him as an asset worth acquiring.

“I like the kid. I like the skillset. It’s just the situation we’re in from a financial standpoint,” Schoen said. “It is what it is. But there are ways that we can still make it work and James can be here. People say why don’t you cut or trade him? Then there’s a huge void.

“We’re going to play it out, see how the draft goes, see what the roster looks like,” Schoen said.

Regardless of Schoen’s praise for Bradberry, though, the Giants’ opinion of the corner’s play wasn’t high enough for them to prioritize keeping him. The GM said he’s aware of how it may affect the locker room, too, if the process continues to drag out and shrinks Bradberry’s options.

“You’re always taking that into the decision. That’s part of the process, too. You think about all those things,” Schoen said.

The bottom line: the finish line for the Bradberry saga is likely near. The biggest question is whether the Giants’ designs to replace him will fall in place, as well.