How did the Carolina Panthers let James Bradberry walk?

(Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports) James Bradberry
(Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports) James Bradberry /

James Bradberry has been playing lights out since leaving the Carolina Panthers.

The Carolina Panthers made some bold moves during the offseason. But one decision, in particular, might just come back to haunt them.

James Bradberry was the No. 1 cornerback option for the Carolina Panthers before he was allowed to depart in free agency in favor of a big-money move to the New York Giants. This looked like a big blow at the time given the player’s production. But one that was understandable given their salary cap constraints.

The former second-round pick penned a three-year, $43.5 million deal with the Giants that included a $9 million signing bonus and $31.98 million guaranteed. This seemed like a lot of money at the time. However, given the way Bradberry is performing through six games of the 2020 season, it appears to be money well spent.

Bradberry has been at the top of his game for the Giants and is playing at an All-Pro level. This was reflected by another standout display coming up against his former head coach Ron Rivera and the Washington Football Team last time out, which was their first win of the campaign.

The Carolina Panthers should have extended James Bradberry.

It’s not like Bradberry was some aging veteran past the peak of his powers. This was a player who was entering his prime and judging by the way he is showing out at MetLife Stadium, the Panthers made a serious mistake not keeping him around.

Donte Jackson has played well, but the injury problems are there for all to see. Carolina also struck gold when they picked up Rasul Douglas in free agency. But it is hard to dispute that Bradberry is not a considerable upgrade on these two options.

The Samford product has been a revelation for the Giants and exactly what they’ve been looking for to boost their secondary for some time. Bradberry has already notched two interceptions, ten pass deflections, 20 combined tackles, 15 solo tackles, and one forced fumble through six games. He is giving up a 56.7 percent completion percentage when targeted and is one of Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded cornerbacks with an eye-catching 83.7.

Carolina might have pleaded their case in terms of the financial implications of extending Bradberry. But they’ve found ways to pay running back Christian McCaffrey and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater a combined $36 million signing bonus and $71 million guaranteed this offseason, so if the decision-makers really wanted the player, they would have found the money.

Instead, Bradberry moved on and is thriving despite the Giants’ struggles in a dismal-looking NFC East. His level of production has been exemplary and is undoubtedly enough for those who are highly critical of general manager Marty Hurney to add this to their list of decisions that have ultimately cost the Panthers.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing to have in the NFL.

Had it not been for the extortionate amount of dead-cap money Carolina is currently committing to, things might have been different. But there is no denying that letting a player like Bradberry go for nothing is a further testament to how bad things have been managed from a personnel and financial perspective in recent years.

4 free agents/practice squad players to boost Carolina Panthers DL depth. light. More

It’s not the end of the world for the Panthers. But if Bradberry continues to emerge as one of the NFL’s best shutdown corners, it will leave more questions than answers.