Sauce Gardner's playing style seems to go hand-in-hand with Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale's philosophy
INDIANAPOLIS – After finishing his collegiate career at the University of Cincinnati without allowing a touchdown in coverage, cornerback Sauce Gardner was asked how he will react when an NFL wide receiver inevitably reaches the end zone on his watch.
"I don’t have plans on giving one up in the NFL," he said.
That, of course, was the Sauce talking, Sauce being the nickname Ahmad Gardner has worn since he was six years old. It’s what makes him one of the most highly regarded – and interesting – prospects in this year’s draft.
There is Ahmad, the soft-spoken humble kid who made his mom retire from a factory job so he could support her and thank her for all she did for him growing up in hardscrabble Detroit, the guy who said he has never taken a drink or so much as puffed on a victory cigar in his life. Then there is Sauce, the brash cornerback with grilled up teeth who plays in-your-face coverage with a swashbuckling aggressiveness and loves being left on an island against his receiver.
They’re both the same person, if not the same personality.
"When I'm in my little calm mood, I would say that's me being Ahmad," Gardner said at the Combine on Saturday morning. "When (I'm not), I'm Sauce. I’ve got to know when to switch on and when to switch off."
If he can master that toggle, and it seems as if he can, it might make him an ideal candidate for the Giants with their fifth or seventh overall selection in April’s draft.
The playing style of Sauce would seem to go hand-in-hand with the coaching philosophies of the team’s new defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale, while the maturity of Ahmad would assuage the potential fears of an organization that has been burned by headache-inducing cornerbacks in recent years including Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple and DeAndre Baker, the last two of whom were first-round busts.
The Giants seemed to have overcome that streak of cornerbacks whose off-field personalities and transgressions made their stays in New York untenable when they signed James Bradberry two years ago. Bradberry has been a quiet professional for them, reaching the Pro Bowl in 2020. But while he is at the top of their depth chart at the position right now, he also sits atop another list. That’s the one that shows how much money the Giants can save against the salary cap if they part ways with him.
Trading or releasing Bradberry would clear about $12 million in cap space for a team that is looking to slash another $33 million or so in the coming weeks to reach general manager Joe Schoen’s goal of a $40 million reduction. Bradberry has been one of the most dependable Giants over his two years with the team. Now he is one of the most expendable and, because of that, unlikely to be a Giant by the time the players start reporting for offseason workouts in April.
Drafting Gardner would give them a replacement for Bradberry. Possibly even an upgrade.
"I truly believe I’m the best cornerback," Gardner said before listing his rationale for that boast. "Me being able to come on the field and change the team. My presence. People being able to look up to me even if they're older than me and know my love for the game. Me being able to just be competitive so I can eliminate the best receiver on the field."
Gardner said the nickname "Sauce" doesn’t really mean anything specific. It actually predates his football playing career, so saying he earned it because coaches can pour him over receivers to cover them would make sense, that’s not quite true. Really it’s more of a mentality than an actual reference to something. A sort of spiciness.
"I make sure I got the sauce, you know?" he said. "It means a lot to me. It's been sticking with me from six all the way to now. I'm gonna just make sure I run with it."
Maybe all the way to the Giants’ secondary.