The New York Giants let Ahmad Bradshaw walk after the 2012 season because they couldn't trust him to stay healthy and because they felt they had running back covered with younger, cheaper options in Andre Brown and David Wilson.
The Giants let Hakeem Nicks walk after the 2013 season because they were mystified as to why he'd performed so poorly in his contract year. They decided it was best to move on to younger, cheaper wide receiver options such as Rueben Randle and, ultimately, first-round draft pick Odell Beckham Jr.
Bradshaw and Nicks will return Monday night to the stadium in which they played home games en route to the Giants' most recent Super Bowl title. They are members of the Indianapolis Colts now, and they bring with them no ill will.
"It didn't take me long to get over it, but it just hurt me because I felt that was my family, that I was a big part of that team and that I still had a lot of football left," Bradshaw said on a conference call Wednesday, reflecting on the Giants' decision to release him two offseasons ago. "I knew it was a business. I know how this business goes. I gave everything I could to the Giants. Injury-wise, I just couldn't get out there on the field.
"When I left, at first I didn't know why. But I kind of sat back and thought about it, and it being business, money and injuries."
The injuries followed Bradshaw to Indianapolis, where he played just three games last year and ended up needing career-threatening neck surgery. He has managed to recover from that and so far lead the 5-3 Colts with 371 rushing yards. He also has 31 receptions for 264 yards and six touchdowns. He's eager to show off in front of Giants fans on Monday Night.
"Like I said, that was a family to me at one time, and that was like home to me," Bradshaw said. "And just to be able to go back home and be around old fans of mine and play in front of old fans of mine and family and just get back and see those guys and be in that atmosphere, it makes me anxious to be ready for this game and be ready to go."
Nicks was a former first-round pick who was one of the top wide receivers in the league for a time and a critical part of the Giants' Super Bowl run in 2011. But his disappearance from the offense in 2013 was one of the great mysteries of that disappointing season. He ended without a touchdown catch despite playing in all but one game. Other than a brilliant performance in a home preseason game against the Giants, Nicks' time in Indianapolis has been a disappointment so far as well. He's tied for sixth on the team with just 18 receptions for 168 yards, though he has caught two touchdowns.
"There's only one football, and we've got a ton of skill guys and a ton of playmakers surrounding our quarterback," relentlessly upbeat Colts coach Chuck Pagano said by way of explanation. "The numbers may not look outstanding at this point, but he's come in here and done a great job and worked his tail off. He's a selfless guy, and right now he's trying to do whatever he can to help the team win."
Nicks was known around the Giants as a hard worker and a selfless player, which is part of what made 2013 so difficult to understand. Looking back, he doesn't seem to have much of an idea what happened, nor any interest in discussing it. He did say he felt better physically than he has in years, but as far as anyone around the Giants knew he was healthy last year, so that doesn't make much sense as an explanation either.
"I'm in a new situation, and I've got a chance to prove to this team what I can bring to the table," Nicks said. "I take everything from the past and I learn from it. I don't dwell on it. It's life. There's going to be ups and downs, and you just learn from it."