Ahmad Bradshaw and Hakeem Nicks were key players on the New York Giants' 2011 team that won Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Bradshaw won his first Super Bowl with the Giants four years earlier, when his 2007 team shocked the then-undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
Now, both Bradshaw and Nicks are teammates on the Indianapolis Colts, discarded by the Giants for pretty much the same reasons: Age and injuries.
However, according to Mike Wells of ESPN, via an article by ESPN's Giants writer Dan Graziano, the Giants might have taken things a step too far when they made the decision to not re-sign free agent wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, a player the G-Men had invested a 2009 first round pick in.
Bradshaw told Wells that, when Bradshaw and Nicks became free agents, the Giants as an organization opted to go with players "younger, faster, healthy" at their respective positions. Bradshaw left New York in 2013 while Nicks departed this year. Teams looking to go younger, faster, and healthier at certain positions is, of course, common in the NFL. Veteran running backs, in particular, are devalued in this way. Teams can get great production and value from low-round draft selections over signing, or re-signing, a veteran. Bradshaw himself is an example of this. He was drafted in the 7th round in 2007.
Where things get odd is when Bradshaw said [emphasis mine]:
"[The Giants] try to make you feel like you're a cancer to the team. Different things. It's really they want to try to get the younger guys experience and sit you down. Not that you've done anything wrong. I've been there and I know where he comes from. He's telling me, 'They said I was cancer there.' I know how it was cause I was there. I've been through that."
It's one thing to part ways from Bradshaw and Nicks because of injuries and age. Both guys had a hard time staying healthy in New York. Since coaching and front office job security are tied to the on field performance of the players they draft and coach, investing money in injury-prone players is not a wise policy. In 2013, Hakeem Nicks was given an opportunity to prove to the Giants he was worth re-signing. He failed, catching just 56 passes for 896 yards and 0 touchdowns. Injuries likely played a part in that failure.
But, if the Giants called Nicks "a cancer" to his face, or if they made Bradshaw and/or Nicks feel as though they were "cancers" within the organization, that's pretty classless and petty. Without these guys, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese would likely have been fired a loooooooooong time ago. Despite winning two Super Bowls in five years, the Giants haven't exactly been a dominant force in the NFC.
As Dan Graziano notes in his article, he's never heard anyone with the Giants organization claim that Nicks was a "cancer." Just because no one that Graziano speaks to within the Giants organization referred to Nicks as a "cancer" doesn't mean that such a word was tagged to Nicks in private conversations between Nicks himself and Giants coaches and/or front office people.
What we do know is the Giants were frustrated with Nicks' rehab from injuries last year, and, reportedly, they fined him multiple times because he missed treatments. This doesn't mean that Nicks was "a cancer," but in an organization heavily influenced by head coach Tom Coughlin, it's not a stretch to say that anyone who isn't fully on-board with the program could be seen within that organization as a detriment.
It's worth noting that the two players who were supposed to replace Ahmad Bradshaw last season, David Wilson and Andre Brown, ended up getting hurt and missing just about as much time in 2013 as Bradshaw did for the Colts. Bradshaw played in just 3 games for the Colts last year before succumbing to a chronic neck injury that was only addressed by season-ending spinal fusion surgery. Meanwhile, the Giants suffered through a miserable 7-9 season in which they started 0-6 and quarterback Eli Manning threw 27 interceptions. When they did play, Wilson and Brown averaged just 3.4 yards-per-carry between the two of them.
Bradshaw averaged 4.5-per-carry and scored two touchdowns in three games for the Colts in 2013.
Another note: This is the same Giants organization that did a video tribute to Bradshaw when he returned as a member of the Colts during a preseason game last year.
Since we don't know what was and wasn't said, it's basically about who you choose to believe. What we do know is that two key contributors on championship-winning Giants teams feel as though the Giants slammed their character before slamming the door in their faces.
All this should make for a VERY interesting Week 9 match-up in 2014 when the Colts travel to the Giants for a Monday Night Football game. Of course, this is assuming both Bradshaw and Nicks are healthy that deep into the season. Here's to hoping they are. A healthy and motivated Nick/Bradshaw combo is a pretty dynamic thing to watch.
Just ask Giants fans.