When Ahmad Bradshaw was drafted out of Marshall by the Giants in 2007, I admit that I was not a believer. I didn't think he had the size or durability that would be required from a running back to succeed on this team. I am happy to say I was wrong.
A look at Bradshaw's 2010 season:
1235 yards rushing
For a seventh-round draft pick that isn't too bad. It was this draft that convinced me the Giants are in good hands with Jerry Reese at the helm. That being said, with the lockout still unresolved and Bradshaw's free agency being a major question mark, it isn't a foregone conclusion that he will be back. There are plenty of teams who may seek out his services, but these next five in particular could be big players for the Giants free agent running back.
Before getting into possible destinations for Ahmad Bradshaw, it is important to understand the nature of his free agency. As of right now, he is a restricted free agent. Any team that tenders him will have to hope the Giants don't respond with a matching offer. On top of that, if the Giants decide NOT to match an offer, the team that signs Bradshaw would have to surrender a second round draft choice. Ouch. Most teams would do well to fear giving Jerry Reese such a high pick.
It is also possible that Bradshaw will be an unrestricted free agent, depending on how the new NFL collective bargaining agreement shakes out. This is where things get dicey. Will a team (including the Giants) overpay for Bradshaw? What will the cap look like? And what exactly will Bradshaw demand on the open market?
As arguably the best running back available via free agency, several teams will surely be looking to add a quality player such as Bradshaw to their backfield. Whether he will be restricted or unrestricted is the million-dollar question.
The worst case scenario, of course, would be that the lockout lasts long enough to kill the season. This would really leave everything up in the air, and only compound a fairly major issue for a Giants team that will have to fight all season long for the division and success in the playoffs. I don't really see this happening because the NFL is far too important to advertisers (many of whom build their entire campaigns based on the NFL season) and fans alike to not have a season. While the NFL doesn't have a problem alienating its fanbase (think PSL's), it would definitely not want to endanger or disrupt the myriad businesses that line it's pockets. A smart man once said "Cash Rules Everything Around Me" and the NFL is no different. This scenario is the one I consider least likely.
Where do I begin? The Stripes were ranked 27th in the NFL in rushing last year, averaging 95.1 yards on the ground per game. Cedric Benson led the team with over 1,100 yards rushing, but only averaged 3.5 yards per carry. Compounding the issue was the fact that they only scored 8 TD's on the ground, and Benson is himself a free agent.
Bradshaw would certainly be an upgrade over Benson; he would bring much needed character to a team desperately in need of it, along with a playoff tested mindset. The concern lies with their offensive line and the depleted state of the offensive skill players as a whole. Bradshaw needs a strong line in front of him for two reasons: One, his game is predicated on his deceptiveness in space and his ability to slip past the secondary (watch film of his game against Minnesota and you'll see what I mean), rather than mixing it up with a team's front seven; and two, he had issues fumbling the ball last season and if that trend continues, he will need a strong offensive line to protect him and help make sure those fumbles are not recovered by the other team.
Bradshaw thrives behind an athletic line that can pull, and the Bengals do not possess that. However, his own athleticism, youth and resume are hard to ignore, and if Benson leaves via free agency, Bradshaw would be an upgrade for them here. Carson Palmer can't sling like he used to, and nothing eases the pressure of a QB's life like a solid running game.
The Washington Redskins are an organization in need of some immediate on field production to help its fans cope with what Albert Haynesworth is doing to the team. It also wouldn't hurt to claim a star player from a division rival. Bradshaw can quickly address both issues.
With the quarterback situation still very much up in the air, the Redskins need to solidify their offensive production. Ahmad Bradshaw would step in and start immediately. He's head and shoulders above anyone they have on their roster. Ryan Torrain is not the answer, and its doubtful that Roy Halu will produce right off the bat. Having Bradshaw around will allow the Redskins to lighten the load on the rest of their their young running backs who simply weren't up to par last season. There's a reason they were ranked 31st in the league in rushing.
The boys from the Grunge City need help. BADLY. I know they have Lynch, but there are grumblings in Seattle that he doesn't fit. A look at Seattle's rushing "attack" last season:
89.0 yards per game (31st in the NFL)
1,424 rushing yards (31st in the NFL)
39 yards- longest run (29th in the NFL)
Okay, I'll stop now.
After using their first two picks on offensive lineman, it's clear that Seattle views its offense as a priority. They don't have any standouts on that side of the ball, so Bradshaw makes sense IF Seattle indeed has lost faith in Lynch. Leon Washington didn't make an impact last year, but Bradshaw's presence just might make him elevate his game. They are both shifty, but in different ways: Washington is a burner who puts moves on defenders at the second level, consistently making them miss; Bradshaw is proficient at positioning himself to both maximize his lateral burst and give defenders tough tackling angles. Washington is more versatile than Bradshaw, but Bradshaw is more consistent, having improved steadily in every year he's been in the league.
Another thing Bradshaw brings to the table is the fact that he is used to playing under pressure and intense scrutiny. The New York media won't forgive or forget his fumbling issues last season, not unless he stays in New York and erases the problem a la Tiki Barber. With less of a spotlight to deal with, along with what should be an improved O-Line, Bradshaw could really have a superstar season for the 'Hawks.
Let's examine why the Mile High city would be a good fit for Ahmad Bradshaw.
This organization is looking to distance itself from the drama Josh McDaniels brought to the team, and they can't do it fast enough. Bradshaw performs well on the field, and behaves off it, and is also a great locker room presence. John Fox's running scheme is a good fit for Bradshaw because of it's dependence on pulling and sliding off the running back's near side. Ryan Clady in particular excels at this.
Many teams are shifting to a running back by committee system nowadays, so it isn't out of the question for the Broncos would look to do just that by adding Bradshaw. Knowshon Moreno has been somewhat uneven in his first two years in the league, and there are concerns that he can't sustain his game as a featured back. Enter Bradshaw. Moreno is the flashier, of the two, but their games are essentially the same, relying on quickness and strong bursts off the defenders to get their yards.
The argument against this is that Moreno may still develop into an elite back. Would Bradshaw want to come to a team that essentially would not give him long term security should Moreno's star rise? Would the Broncos even look to add Bradshaw if they have faith in Moreno? Time will tell. Meanwhile, take a look at this:
Denver Broncos team rushing stats and NFL Rank
1544 yards (26th)
3.9 yards per carry (23rd)
96.5 yards per game (26th)
40 yards, longest run (28th)
6 runs of 20+ yards (29th)
This is the dream every Giants fan has, but how realistic is it? If the new CBA makes Bradshaw an unrestricted free agent, the possibility becomes even more bleak. The hard truth is that Brandon Jacobs will cost the team nearly $10 million over the next two seasons, and signing Bradshaw to a lucrative deal just may not be feasible.
The Giants have other impact players (most notably Steve Smith and Barry Cofield) who are free agents and there just isn't enough money to go around. This is to say nothing of the team's need for a quality linebacker, a need they may look to fill in free agency. Despite this, it appears Jerry Reese will make re-signing Smith and Bradshaw a high priority on his free agent to do list, once the lockout ends, of course.
That being said, there are plenty of reasons for Bradshaw to stay. He has chemistry with this line and a strong relationship with Brandon Jacobs. They compliment each other perfectly. Furthermore there are the Giants receivers who, even without Steve Smith, will be a dangerous unit. With more attention being paid to the receivers, Bradshaw will be able to really do some damage in the running game and put up his best year yet.