- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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If Hakeem Nicks were a different sort of guy, the next turn in this story already would have happened -- and it probably would have been ugly. There can be no doubt that Nicks is upset that the New York Giants made him inactive for Sunday's game, and there's even less doubt that coach Tom Coughlin is aggravated about the way his one-time star wide receiver handled things last week.
Nicks surprised the Giants last Wednesday by asking to have his abdominal injury checked out to make sure it wasn't a hernia and missed practice as a result. Coughlin said the missed practice time was the reason Nicks didn't get a uniform Sunday morning. Nicks declined to speak to the media Sunday night and was not available Monday.
So the next turn in this story comes Wednesday, when the Giants begin practicing for Sunday's game against the Redskins, and Nicks is likely to be available to speak. What Nicks says, whether he practices and how he handles this week in general will go a long way toward determining his NFL future, be it with the Giants or some other team.
Nicks is not a diva wide receiver. It's important to know this. He's a quiet, relatively reserved guy who spent his first four years in the league as an unassailable team player, working hard in the film room and on the practice field, helping train younger receivers and playing as best he could through a rash of injuries. But he and the Giants mutually agreed in the offseason to postpone negotiations on a new contract until after this season, at which point he is eligible for unrestricted free agency, and that has resulted in some messiness.
Nicks opted out of the optional portion of the offseason program and admittedly took things slowly in the preseason out of an abundance of caution to avoid injury. He believed those actions would help him be a full-speed performer during this regular season, and his 114 yards in the season opener in Dallas provided an encouraging sign to that effect.
But the year hasn't gone the way a prospective free agent (or a team hoping he'd return to his No. 1 wide receiver form) would have hoped. Nicks has had only one 100-yard game since and has not caught a touchdown pass all year. He has had bad drops, but more worrisome are his troubles creating separation from defenders in the secondary. He doesn't seem to run the way he used to, which could be because the leg injuries have accumulated enough to sap his speed or because he's (consciously or subconsciously) trying to avoid injury. He hasn't shied away from referring to his "situation," and those of us who cover the team appreciate that he seems not to want to treat us like idiots when everybody knows what that situation is. Last week, he was honest enough to tell us that his agent was the one who recommended he get the abdominal issue examined. The cards are all on the table. Nicks is shooting as straight as a player in his position can shoot.
Which is why it matters what he does next. If he sulks and pouts about the team's decision not to activate him for last week's game, that's not going to improve the Giants' opinion of him as a guy to whom they'd consider committing long-term. And if he snaps out of his season-long funk, gets back on the practice field and finishes with five strong games, he could price himself out of the Giants' preferred spending range, especially since they wouldn't be far removed from these Nicks-related headaches. Nicks' best chance of getting a free-agent deal from the Giants is if the team chalks this year up to a larger mess and decides it's worth taking a long-term chance on him at a relatively reasonable cost. But even in that case, Nicks would have to be willing to sign for reasonable money. If he's after top-dollar, and there's a team willing to pay for his talent and pre-2013 track record, he's likely going elsewhere.
Regardless, this week is a big one for him. Even if the Giants have written him off as a long-term option (and I don't get the sense they have, though this is the first week in which I felt they may be leaning that way), it behooves Nicks to play well and continue to act like the professional he has always been. He's going to want to sign somewhere next year, and a Week 12 abdominal injury isn't going to damage the potential value of his next deal as much as a sudden reputation as a malcontent would. I don't think that's the kind of guy he is, which is why, if he's healthy, I expect him to brush off Sunday's slight and return to normality (or the 2013 Giants version of it) starting Wednesday. But I admit that's only my best guess. And I'm as fascinated as anyone to find out what actually does happen.