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Friday, June 1, 2012
Umenyiora deserves a better deal

By Ashley Fox
ESPN.com

Sometimes, you just have to pay a man. Take a flyer. Stray from the course. Make a man whole.

It doesn't have to happen often, but it does have to happen, especially when money in the NFL equals respect -- and a lack of money equals a perceived lack of respect. Playing under market value for approximately $600,000 so ate away at Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson last season that it rendered the speedy wide receiver a nonfactor. It consumed him and doomed him. Money. Respect. They go hand in hand.

Which is why New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese needs to end this imbroglio with Osi Umenyiora and pay him. Quit playing the semantics game. Quit saying you offered him an extension when you offered him the equivalent of an insult. Quit wasting time and potentially screwing with a good thing you've got going in the locker room, where Umenyiora is not only liked but is also respected, his contract be damned.

Osi Umenyiora
Osi Umenyiora had 12.5 sacks in 13 games (including the playoffs) last season.
On Wednesday, ESPN's Sal Paolantonio reported that the Giants and Umenyiora were not close to finding a middle ground. Umenyiora skipped the voluntary organized team activities that his teammates endured this week. He will likely skip next week's OTAs as well. The come-to-Jesus date is June 12, when Umenyiora's participation in a minicamp is mandatory. Then we will know just how much this all means to him.

Money. Respect. It is all about money and respect.

Umenyiora is set to make just a shade under $4 million in 2012, the last year of a seven-year, $41 million extension he signed in 2005. He was grossly underpaid in 2011 and would be in 2012 too. Despite missing seven regular-season games with knee and ankle problems, Umenyiora had 12.5 sacks in 13 games, including the playoffs.

He was on fire in the postseason. Umenyiora sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in the Giants' win over Atlanta. The next week against Green Bay, he got to Aaron Rodgers twice. In the conference final at San Francisco, he was constantly in the 49ers' backfield.

Umenyiora earned his keep. He deserves a better deal.

"If he was signed to a deal that was twice that and he performed half of what he is, he would have been cut by now," Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said Wednesday, and he is right.

"That is just the reality of this game," Kiwanuka said. "But the fact that he is signed to a lower average salary deal and playing at a high level, 10-plus sacks every year, the fact that nothing has been done with it, it is an obvious issue. It would be an issue for anybody out here. I understand his frustration, but there is nothing I can do about it."

Reese can, and should.

Some players are too important to let dangle out there in their own discontent. Umenyiora is one such player. He is an integral part of the Giants' defense, even if his young successor has emerged in the wonderfully talented but raw Jason Pierre-Paul. New York is loaded at defensive end, but what does that matter? Take what you do best and do it better than everyone else.

Just ask Tom Brady. He would have five Super Bowl rings right now were it not for the Giants' pass rush, which has been fueled by Umenyiora's intensity and zeal for the better part of the past eight seasons. In a pass-oriented league, the best defense is an aggressive pass rush, and the Giants have that. They are deep, talented, experienced and proven -- with Umenyiora.

Without him, they aren't as good. They aren't as mean. They won't be as feared. They might not be as successful.

Chemistry matters, and the Giants have that. But what if Umenyiora goes in the tank? What if he doesn't show up at all? What if he mattered more than Reese or Tom Coughlin or anybody really knew?

Wouldn't it be worth it to make him happy, to make him whole? If the Giants are chasing a dynasty, and they certainly won't say it but they are right there, wouldn't it be worth a few extra dollars to sign a guy who still is only 30 years old, who has always performed and who makes their team better?

The answer is yes.

Reese needs to figure out a way to make it happen, and Umenyiora needs to be realistic. There can be a happy medium. If Jackson and the Eagles could find it, then the Giants should be able to as well.

Before getting hacked again on Twitter this week, Umenyiora retweeted a Tracy Morgan tweet. It said, "Sometimes you have to make the right decision, and sometimes you have to make the decision right."

The Giants would be wise to listen.