August 15, 2022

Brother, can you spare a dime?

The Giants are not singing that tune just yet as they inch closer and closer to finding the $40 million or so general manager Joe Schoen says he wants to create before the start of the new league year on Wednesday. But they may start humming a few bars as they make the moves they need to head into NFL free agency with at least some money to make a few bargain moves.

It is difficult to have a precise accounting of where the Giants stand but it appears Schoen has been able to carve nearly $25 million off the 2022 salary cap. This figure was helped along by the salary reductions for wide receiver Sterling Shepard and linebacker Blake Martinez. Combined, that saved about $12 million off the cap.

The Giants could take the biggest bite of all out of their cap if they trade away cornerback James Bradberry, a move that would clear $12.1 million in cap space — and cost the team the services of their best defender in coverage. If the Giants can get a mid-round draft pick for Bradberry a deal probably makes sense, as he is entering the final year of the three-year, $43.5 million contract he signed as a free agent in 2020. Bradberry, 28, has not lost a step and would be an extremely valuable addition for a contending team. The Giants are (once again) in rebuild mode, with a new front office and new coaching staff. Bradberry’s presence on defense, while certainly significant, does not figure to make or break what could be a growing year.

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Giants cornerback James Bradberry breaks up a pass intended for the Rams’ Robert Woods on Oct. 17, 2021.
USA TODAY Sports

Bradberry’s first two seasons with the Giants were strongly in keeping with how top-tier free agency works: Paying great money to good or very good but not great players.

What is evident is that Bradberry will not be on the team this season with his scheduled cap hit of $21.8 million. He has no reason to accept a pay cut, considering he was healthy the past two seasons and performed at a high level — although he was a more effective player in 2020 than he was in 2021. Shepard (torn Achilles’ tendon) and Martinez (torn ACL) are coming off significant injuries and surgeries and had no leverage when the Giants came to them and asked for massive salary reductions.

Without Bradberry, the top cornerbacks on the roster are Adoree’ Jackson and Aaron Robinson. Jackson signed a three-year, $39 million contract in free agency last year and did not produce to that level of compensation. Robinson, a 2021 third-round draft pick, started his NFL career on injured reserve and eventually got into nine games. He needed time to acclimate and only briefly showed flashes of what the Giants hope he can be.

Two other cornerbacks on the roster, Darnay Holmes and Rodarius Williams, ended last season on injured reserve. Another corner, Jarren Williams, is an exclusive rights free agent.

If the Giants are able to trade Bradberry, it would heighten the need to add a cornerback high in next month’s NFL draft. They own the No. 5 and No. 7 overall picks and it is likely they would be in position to select Sauce Gardner of Cincinnati or Derek Stingley Jr. of LSU. The Giants prefer not to go into the draft with another big hole to fill, as they already have enough of them (offensive line and edge rusher at the top) and picking high in the first round specifically for need is often fraught with peril.

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New head coach Brian Daboll hired Wink Martindale as the Giants’ defensive coordinator and Martindale’s pressure packages rely on the cornerbacks holding up, often in man coverage. Taking Bradberry away makes Martindale’s job more difficult.

It will be a brand new defense installed by Martindale, but there will be some familiarity in the defensive backfield, as Daboll retained Jerome Henderson from Joe Judge’s coaching staff. Henderson returns to coach the defensive backs and that should help ease the transition for those who remain from the 2021 season.

“I was fired up to keep my dog Jerome there,’’ Jackson told The Post recently. “He taught us a lot, especially about the game, him being able to play that position at the highest level and make plays and seeing things and trying to coach us up and teach us and help us in those ways. He’s been a great person to try to teach us how to be men in life. There were always life lessons we were talking about, whether it was football or just life in general.

“I was for sure excited, I feel it gives us a lot more, I guess I would say, comfort. Even though it is a new coordinator, but you have somebody that is familiar with you, knows the game, can help you out and he knows how we understand and can learn things and can teach us from what he’s learned, It’s a plus to keep ’Rome back with us.’’