Bobby Hart, the tackle who was cut by the Giants in late-December after refusing to practice and play in the season finale, has found a "fresh start" in Cincinnati. And he's hoping the Bengals can help him reshape a tattered reputation he believes is unfair.
The 23-year-old Hart, in quotes released by his new team, didn't deny that he refused to take the field with the Giants in the final week of their miserable 3-13 season. Instead, according to the release, he said he believed "some" in the Giants organization agreed that he shouldn't play because he was still bothered by a nagging ankle injury.
Hart didn't say who agreed with him, but it clearly wasn't new GM Dave Gettleman, who green-lighted Hart's release on Dec. 30 -- just one day after Gettleman officially started his new job.
Hart also said he feels certain that his past issues won't be a problem for Bengals coach Marvin Lewis at all.
"It's frustrating seeing all those things about you that you know are not true," Hart said, according to the Bengals' website. "The main thing I took from (Lewis) is he's not just blowing smoke. You can just feel the genuine aspect coming from him. When you get labelled those things, you kind of start to develop a wall, a shield where you block people out and don't let people in. But when you talk to him and you feel how genuine he is, that wall just comes down. You just listen to him and you can feel he cares."
The Giants seemed to care a lot about Hart one year ago when former Giants GM Jerry Reese was banking on his former seventh-round pick (2015) to be a fixture at right tackle. Hart even spent the offseason at the Giants' facility working out with Giants left tackle Ereck Flowers in the hopes that they'd build a chemistry that would last.
He was so optimistic that just before the 2017 opener he famously told NJ.com that "I know I'm the best right tackle in the league."
He never played like it, though, and after he injured his ankle in the Giants' season opener, he struggled the rest of the season. And as the Giants' season went into a downward spiral, the attitudes of Hart and Flowers seemed to worsen, according to team sources. When both chose not to fight through injuries the final week of the season, it was the final straw, the sources said.
That's when Hart was cut and Flowers -- a former first-round pick -- was benched.
Hart, though, told the Bengals website that if he had been healthy he would've tried to play in the Giants' final game. He told them his incentive to play was that, as a low-round pick and low-paid player, he was eligible to receive a performance-based bonus from the league.
Not that any of that mattered to a Bengals organization that has had a history of bringing in players with previous issues - including more than a few with criminal backgrounds. In the 6-4, 316-pound Hart they didn't see a problem player. They only saw one with potential who could help their offensive line.
"Bobby is a young player with three years of NFL experience and has very good upside and tools," Lewis said. "We are excited to add him to the team as we improve our offensive line. The offensive line is a focus area for us and this is one of various steps we are taking to improve our performance."
Hart wasn't actually officially released by the Giants until this week because of the timing of when they cut him. He was waived/injured on the final Friday of the season, but he first had to clear waivers, which didn't take place until after the Super Bowl. Once he cleared, he automatically reverted to the Giants' injured reserve list, and then they cut him from there.
After he cleared, his agent called Lewis, who wasted no time in adding Hart to his roster. And Hart jumped at the chance to restart his NFL career.
"One of my good friends told me something that made sense: 'Be thankful for tough times because after tough times you usually get a fresh start,'" he said. "I'm thankful for everything that's happened to me. It's just a blessing to be able to come to an organization like this."