On the same day the Ravens were celebration their SB47 victory with a parade through the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, the Giants began their journey to capture another with news of the release of Michael Boley. The "chopping" didn't end there as Wednesday afternoon brought us the end of the Giants' careers of Ahmad Bradshaw and Chris Canty.
If you were to take a look at the snap counts and quotes from Boley (who claimed he was relatively health) in the last quarter of the season, this move shouldn't come as much of a surprise. The OLB had grown a bit disgrunteled and the Giants appeared ready to move on from Boley as he lost a considerable amount of playing time. During the Giants SB46 run, Boley played an integral role in quarterbacking the Giants defense (the Giants struggled through a month stretch in November without him) and making some key plays that will live on in the lure of the run. Most memorable for me will be his acrobatic 4th and 1 stop against the Falcons in the WC round (after making a similar stop against Tony Romo in Week 17's divisional title matchup) when he came over the top of the LOS to grab hold of Matt Ryan and wrestle him down to the ground. This year, he is a cap casualty. So goes life in the NFL.
After saving about $4.5 million against the cap with the move, the Giants are looking at a depth chart featuring J. Williams, Rivers (a UFA who I imagine will be resigned on the cheap) and Paysinger, all of whom will get an opportunity to earn the spot that Boley filled for four seasons. Personally I am a fan of what Williams brings to the table athletically but like Rivers he spent much of the 2012 season dealing with injuries. Paysinger showed minor flashes this season (the SF game comes to mind for me) but doesn't seem ready for a starting role.
Chris Canty, as we know, dealt with his fair share of injuries for the Giants and a week 16 MCL strain may have been the straw that broke the camel's back. On the wrong side of 30, Canty's cap number of $6.25 million and a potential second knee surgery in just over a year made him a luxury that the Giants could not afford within the projected salary cap looming.
The move leaves the Giants extremely thin at defensive tackle with only Linval Joseph and Marcus Kuhn (2012 7th round pick) currenty on the roster. While I'm sure the Giants aren't completely ready to give up on Marvin Austin, 2013 will in all likelihood be his last chance to drop the bust reputation that he has earned in his short tenure with the team. Kuhn, it seems, has outplayed expectations in the eyes of the organization while Austin has done just the opposite.
While some moves at both LB and DT will certainly be made whether it be via the draft or free agency, let's hold off on speculating names until we get a bit deeper into the offseason. A draft assessment from Wonder, a better feel for the exact cap number and a look at the free agents who hit the market in March will give us a better idea of who the Giants may be locking in on.
“Pound for pound, Bradshaw is one of the toughest football players that I’ve been around,” general manager Jerry Reese said. “Ahmad played football like Giants football should be played.”
High praise from someone who tells it like it is and doesn't offer praise just for the sake of it.
Losing Bradshaw is a bigger hit to the Giants than any Ultimate22 grade could quantify. The former 7th round compensation selection has the reverence and respect from every single man in the organization. I generally am one to scoff at making assumptions about things like locker room presences and team chemistry but consider Bradshaw a rare execption. All you need to do is pull up any article about Bradshaw this morning (or from any point in his career for that matter) and read the things that his teammates and coaches have to say about their teammate.
Unlike DT and LB it's pretty clear who will step in for the Giants at RB and the future certainly does look promising. Andre Brown proved last year that he may be the best pure "runner" on the Giants, showing great pace and vision as he always found a way to gain yards. David Wilson's late season success is still fresh in all of our minds and certainly had Reese giddy as he spoke in postseason interviews about the big play threat the Giants slowly unleashed.
The future is bright here.....AS LONG AS someone can pick up the slack for Bradshaw in pass protection. The 5'10'' Bradshaw was an exceptional pass blocker and wasn't afraid to use his leverage to deliver a blow to a blitzing LB who towered over him. More often than not, this was a battle that Bradshaw won. And as we saw down the stretch in 2012 this is somewhere he will be sorely missed. Pass protection will be something to watch for the RBs in 2013 and will be a good way to determine whether or not the $2.75 million saved on 44 was worth it.
Bradshaw himself acknolwedged he and the Giants discussed the possibility of a return but I find it unlikely. There is going to be a team who will be able to offer a bit more than the Giants. With the depth they have at the position, it just doesn't make sense for them to offer any sizable deal to him.
Just short of 27 years old, Bradshaw's running style caused the injuries to pile up, particularly in his feet. Former longtime Giants beat writer Vinny DiTrani said it best:
Bradshaw's tough, piston-like running style took toll on sides of his feet. One of toughest guys I've seen in 40-plus years.— VinnyDiTrani (@sageman01) February 6, 2013
As Bradshaw got older he began to spend more time dealing with injuries (and he certainly did deal with them) and most recently had another surgery to replace screws in his right foot. As we learned over his six years with the Giants, there were few injuries that were going to hold 44 down. Coach Coughlin touched on this yesterday:
“Bradshaw has great toughness,” Coughlin said. “He plays through anything. He doesn’t just talk about playing hurt. He does play hurt. If anyone knows the quality of this man’s pain threshold, all you need to do is watch him on a Monday when he can’t even walk. He gets a little better on Tuesday, a little better on Wednesday. By Thursday his spirits are back up and whether he can or he can’t, he’s telling you he’s practicing on Friday, and he does. And he plays on Sunday. And he goes through the same cycle. He did that for two or three years.”
Last point on Bradshaw: two plays, both from the SB42 run, really stick with me as a fan. The first is his breakout play---his 88-yard touchdown run in Week 16 @ Buffalo to more or less put the Giants in the tournament. I will forever hear Bob Papa scream "AND AHMAD BRADSHAW HAS RUN THE GIANTS INTO THE PLAYOFFS" whenever the thought of 44 arises.
The second one, as coach Coughlin explained, may be a bit less memorable to Giants fans:
“(The second-quarter) play is going to be one of the least-talked about plays in his much-talked about and revered years here as a New York Giant. It could be the biggest play in the Super Bowl XLII win. This guy goes down in a pile and takes the ball away from a Patriot player who has it in his hands. It was an incredible play. The guy has the ball and Bradshaw goes down and gets the ball and it’s our ball. Rather than losing the ball to Tom Brady and that high-scoring offensive team, he saves the day with that play. Just an incredible football play.”
While all three players were integral parts to bringing a championship to the Giants (x2 for Bradshaw), there is no denying the loss of Bradshaw cuts deepest for both fans and the organization alike. He was the kind of guy that was easy to root for- a seventh round pick who early on earned the trust of the Giants' coaches and never lost it. Here's to hoping all three find success wherever they continue their careers.
As the changes to continue to come for the Giants just remember the words of the legendary coach Bill Walsh who said that it is better to cut ties with a player a year early than a year late.