EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It's one thing for the rest of us to speculate it, but when New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul actually says, as he did Thursday, that he won't be fully recovered from back surgery until next season, it makes you sit up and take notice.
If you weren't sure yet that the Giants had no chance to make anything of this miserable season, you can be now. Pierre-Paul has one sack in his last 14 games and fully admits he isn't the same player he was in 2011 and the early part of 2012, before the back issues began.
"It really is going to take that whole offseason to get back to the old JPP," Pierre-Paul said Thursday after Giants practice. "But he's not gone."
The extent to which he can come back remains a mystery, and if Pierre-Paul's honest estimates are to be believed, they will remain a mystery through the coming offseason. Not to put too fine a point on it, that sets up Pierre-Paul to be the Hakeem Nicks of 2014.
Pierre-Paul's five-year rookie contract expires after the 2014 season, which means he's going to need a new contract, either with the Giants or with someone else. As they did with Nicks this time last year, the Giants view Pierre-Paul as a vital building block for their future and would very much like to make their plans with him front-and-center.
But as was the case with Nicks last offseason, the Giants might find themselves next spring in an odd position with regard to Pierre-Paul. If he continues to struggle, he might not want to negotiate off a bad, injury-plagued season and the Giants might want to see him play a fully healthy season before committing long-term.
That's what happened with Nicks, and it has led to a very odd season in which a supposedly healthy Nicks has failed to perform up to his pre-injury standards. The Giants right now don't know whether they're going to sign Nicks long-term, let him leave via free agency after this season or, heck, trade him by Tuesday's deadline. His performance on the field has muddled everything, and it's a surprise to him and to the team.
Pierre-Paul is upbeat about his situation. He believes he's playing better. He says he got into the backfield nine times Monday night against the Vikings and "almost" sacked the quarterback five times. And he speaks of the healing effects of the offseason not as a hope but as a certainty. He will turn 25 on New Year's Day and already has a 16.5-sack season in the NFL. There is little reason, if any, to doubt that he can again be the kind of disruptive pass-rushing force the Giants believe and expect him to be.
But until that actually happens -- until he plays like what he calls "the old JPP" -- everybody around here will have to wonder. The Giants likely won't be able to talk extension with him this offseason, not with all of the other critical, roster-wide decisions they'll be facing. The decision on Pierre-Paul's long-term future with the Giants may well have to wait until the 2015 offseason. And it may well depend on whether he's right about the power of the 2014 season to restore him to his old form.