Commentary

Umenyiora must get ugly to get his way

The Giants' DE has to up the ante if he plans on getting a new deal this season

Updated: August 8, 2011, 11:45 AM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Giants star Osi Umenyiora can ride an exercise bicycle and claim his barking knee, not his desire to be traded or renegotiate his contract, is what's keeping him from hitting the field at training camp. But unless Umenyiora is really willing to play the Get Ugly card, it's hard to see him bull-rushing the Giants into letting him have his way.

In fact, he wasn't even the toughest walk-the-talk, take-no-crap defensive end in New York this week.

[+] EnlargeOsi Umenyiora
AP Photo/Bill KostrounOsi Umenyiora spends a lot of time pedaling on an exercise bike at camp.

That distinction belonged to longtime New York Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis, who did what the Jets pretty much dared him to do and followed up on a visit to the New England Patriots by signing a one-year contract with the Jets' blood rivals on Sunday rather than accept a one-year deal at the veteran's minimum to stay in New York.

The 34-year-old Ellis (like departed Jets wideout Jerricho Cotchery before him) at least forced the Jets to make a hard decision -- something that Umenyiora has been unable to do with the Giants, despite everything he's tried.

The Giants may yet have to take a few lessons from the Jets on knowing when to say goodbye. But right now, the Giants have all the leverage. Umenyiora has next to none.

Umenyiora is already under contract for two more years. With every day that passes, his other possible destinations are dwindling, and the salary-cap room that other NFL teams have left continues to dry up.

Umenyiora's best and perhaps only hope seems to be making himself so utterly, irreversibly intolerable that the Giants have no choice but to get rid of him, same as they did Jeremy Shockey once upon a time.

That's not a carte blanche endorsement for Umenyiora to act badly; it's just a statement of fact. Nothing much changed for Umenyiora, even after he tried suing Giants general manager Jerry Reese for allegedly reneging on a years-old promise to renegotiate his current contract after the Giants' last Super Bowl victory. And nothing changed for him as one disaster after another smacked the Giants around this week.

First, starting tight end Kevin Boss left for Oakland. Replacement tight end Ben Patrick retired two days later, at the age of 26. Later in the week, No. 1 draft pick Prince Amukamara finally signed, but would break his foot at Saturday's practice.

Even the notion of giving Tom Coughlin a diva-free, distraction-proof preseason for a change isn't motivating Reese to meet Umenyiora's demands. Reese did give Coughlin his contract extension before training camp began, but so far the GM has ignored the novel tactics of his disgruntled defensive end. He even said Umenyiora's claims wouldn't be a problem before the suit was dropped as a condition of the NFL lockout ending.

Umenyiora just continues to stomp his feet and twist.

At some point, the Giants are going to have to know when it's time to say goodbye to Osi and start relying on younger defensive linemen, like Jason Pierre-Paul and Linval Joseph, just as the Jets decided to pencil in rookie Muhammad Wilkerson as a starter to fill the void left by Ellis.

But the Giants haven't been pushed close to that point yet. And they so far have no interest in paying Umenyiora more out of the goodness of their hearts.

Ellis, now 34, isn't nearly the player Osi is. But Umenyiora had to notice that one more team that needed a pass-rushing defensive end went off the board when New England signed Ellis.

"He's a great player … But now that he chose them, you know, no way I wish him well," Jets head coach Rex Ryan said after news of Ellis' defection to the Patriots broke around lunch time.

At some point, Umenyiora is going to see he can make a bunch of correct arguments but still not have a winning argument that will force the Giants to act. He's right to say he's underpaid compared to the other top defensive ends in the game and that he has only a short window of time to maximize his career.

He was right, too, when he bit back at people who said he should honor the contract he signed. Umenyiora pointed to how the Giants cut longtime mainstays Shaun O'Hara and Rich Seubert. Both of them had contracts, too, didn't they?

But former Giant Antonio Pierce was right as well when he said that Umenyiora had a better chance of forcing the Giants into giving him a new deal right after they won the Super Bowl. Back then, Hall of Fame-bound end Michael Strahan had just announced his retirement. The Giants' relentlessly vicious pass rush was among the biggest reasons Tom Brady wasn't able to finish off the Pats' perfect season. Reese was just finishing his first year as GM, and there was more momentum to keep it all rolling.

Now? The Giants have thrown Umenyiora a bone now and then -- allowing him to briefly test the trade market (to no avail), offering him incentive clauses that would be hard to hit and not as lucrative a pay bump as he wants, anyway -- but mostly, they're just waiting Umenyiora out. They seem to believe he'll cave and come back to play the way he did before.

But will he?

Umenyiora can't force the sort of goodbye Ellis got unless he makes this ordeal even uglier. Pretty soon, the Jerk card will be the only one Umenyiora has left.

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