"I was shocked at first, but I'm not the one up there up in the office, and they said they felt they needed to go in another direction," Pierce told ESPN's Rachel Nichols on Thursday. "They said it wasn't my health, or the way I played, but just that -- that they were going in another direction. We left everything smooth and peaceful and I'm happy about that -- I felt like I said everything I needed to say to them. I've loved my time in New York and won't have anything but good feelings about being with this team."
Pierce was the emotional leader of the defense on the '07 Super Bowl team. And even as his ability seemed to fade in '08 and '09, players still looked to him for leadership. He was in the New York area to have an MRI on the herniated disk in his neck when he stopped by to visit with coach Tom Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese. Here's something interesting that Pierce told Nichols:
"I have no wish list," he said. "If I had a preference, it would be to stay in the NFC East, since I know the division so well. But I just want to go somewhere I can help a good team."
Pierce was about to enter the final season of a six-year, $26 million contract. At 31, it's not like he'll command a huge contract with another team. But I think a team will sign him to a one-year deal to see if he can overcome the bulging disk in his neck. Even after being placed on injured reserve last season, Pierce remained on the sideline and encouraged his teammates. And it's his influence in the locker room that will be remembered most by the Giants. Players such as Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka fed off Pierce's emotion.
In talking to Mike Garafolo from the Star-Ledger this afternoon, Pierce didn't show any animosity toward the Giants. In fact, he appears to be showing a lot of grace:
"If there’s anything anybody wants to know about me, it’s that I know for a fact I left a stamp on this organization, this city, my teammates," said Pierce. "I know I made guys better, I know they learned from me. I know I taught them lessons and I learned lessons from them. It was perfect. It maybe didn’t end the way I wanted it to end. If anything’s disappointing, it’s that. Am I angry? I’m not angry. I’m very positive about everything. I feel that my career is far from short and over. I just have to do it elsewhere."
“When we brought him in here, we were interested in A.P. for all of the dimensions he brought to the table -- his leadership qualities, his natural charismatic ability to rally the troops, he loved football, he’s a very smart football player -- he took great pride in studying the tape and knowing what everybody did on defense,” Coughlin said. “He had the ability to communicate assignments on defense as the leader in the huddle. He was a three-time elected captain here with the New York Giants. He demonstrated great leadership. He has been an outstanding football player. Think of the screen play against Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game and the tremendous play that he made. Had he not made that play who knows where that ball would have gone?”
So where do the Giants go from here? Jonathan Goff and Chase Blackburn have taken turns filling in for Pierce, but it's not like either player really distinguished himself. It wouldn't surprise me if the Giants thought about taking a linebacker with the No. 15 pick overall.
They'll certainly find a player with fewer injuries and more speed than Pierce. But it will be virtually impossible to replace the competitive spirit that he brought to the Giants over the past five seasons.
If you asked me where Pierce is going to end up, I'd point to the Rams first. Head coach Steve Spagnuolo has immense respect for his former linebacker. And just because I know you'll ask, I don't think he'd be a good fit in Jim Haslett's 3-4 scheme.