EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants got worse this week when they released cornerback James Bradberry. Their secondary now has just two proven starters -- cornerback Adoree' Jackson and safety Xavier McKinney -- and a slew of question marks.
Bradberry was the team's top cornerback, but general manager Joe Schoen needed money to sign his rookie class and operate throughout the season. The Giants had just under $7 million in salary-cap space prior to the move, according to the Roster Management System. That wouldn't have been enough to get their 11-man draft class signed.
"I like the kid. I like the skill set," Schoen said before the team released Bradberry. "It's just the situation we're in from a financial standpoint. ... People say, 'Why don't you cut or trade him?' Then there's a huge void."
A huge void, it is.
This was always the expected outcome. Bradberry was on the last year of his contract and set to make $13.5 million, which made him hard to trade. The Houston Texans reportedly had interest, but weren't able to reach an agreement on a new deal with the 2020 Pro Bowler. Bradberry knew the Giants needed to unload his contract, and why wouldn't he rather be cut (preferably before free agency in March than after the draft in May), allowing him to choose his next team?
So, here we are in mid-May with Bradberry looking for a new team and the Giants also in a difficult situation. Defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale is left with a secondary that has 107 career starts combined. By comparison, Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Darius Slay has 124 career starts.
The departure of Bradberry also thrusts Jackson into the No. 1 cornerback spot. The Giants reworked his contract to create cap space by moving almost $6 million of his cap hit into future years, and he could be asked to match up with receivers such as A.J. Brown (Eagles), CeeDee Lamb (Cowboys) or Terry McLaurin (Commanders) twice a season in Martindale's defense, which traditionally calls for a lot of man-to-man coverage. That will be asking a lot of Jackson, who lacks ideal size (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) and has minimal experience working out of the slot, where Lamb and McLaurin thrive.
Jackson and McKinney have at least proven to be solid starters, and McKinney has the potential to keep ascending following a strong second season in which he was Pro Football Focus' 15th-ranked safety with a 75.4 grade.
Alongside McKinney at safety is Julian Love and fourth-round pick Dane Belton. Love has been versatile, playing safety and cornerback over his first three seasons. But can he handle a full-time role without being exposed?
No matter who starts at safety, the biggest question in the secondary is who will fill the Bradberry void across from Jackson? As it stands, the Giants will choose from among several young options:
Aaron Robinson: It is clear the new regime thinks highly of last year's third-round pick. "He's definitely going to be competing for a starting job," Schoen said on draft weekend. Robinson started his rookie season slowly because of core muscle surgery in the spring. But his role expanded late in the season, when he appeared to get more comfortable. This is a big opportunity for him. He's the early favorite to start opposite Jackson.
Rodarius Williams: The previous regime was also high on Williams. But he tore the ACL in his right knee last season, so it could take him some time to return to previous form. It's hard to count on much from last year's sixth-round pick early this season.
Jarren Williams: The former undrafted rookie impressed when given opportunities last season. He's a physical player (which might endear him to Martindale), but at 5-11, pairing him with Jackson could be troublesome. Williams seems more suited for a backup role.
Darnay Holmes: He finally put it together midway through last season before a rib injury forced him to miss the final six weeks. But Holmes (5-10, 195) seems like a better fit for the slot.
Cordale Flott: The Giants have already said they view their third-round pick this year as more of a slot corner as well. Maybe Flott (6-1, 175), who turns 21 in August, can grow into something more, but at this point it seems unrealistic to expect him to seriously compete for a starting spot on the outside.
The Giants are also expected to add an inexpensive veteran or two in the secondary. Cornerback Jimmy Smith, a former Ravens starter, is a name to watch given his connection to Martindale. Among the remaining free agents at safety, Jaquiski Tartt, Tashaun Gipson, or dare we say, Landon Collins (the Giants' second-round pick in 2015) would give New York another starting-caliber option. Or maybe Schoen can swing a trade for Ravens veteran backup Chuck Clark, who is familiar with Martindale's scheme.
After releasing Bradberry, it seems something needs to be done to bolster New York's secondary.