Osi Umenyiora talks failed contract

Updated: September 23, 2011, 3:20 PM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Osi Umenyiora didn't get what he wanted with a new contract, but the New York Giants defensive end says he is committed to giving his all for his teammates, coaches and fans this season.

Speaking to reporters for the first time since the 2011 season started with his contract holdout followed by his arthroscopic surgery in mid-August, Umenyiora said he tried to get the lucrative new deal he wanted -- but failed.

Umenyiora
Umenyiora

"At some point, you just have to go for it man, and if it works it works, if it doesn't, it doesn't," Umenyiora said, laughing. "Apparently it didn't work so we are right back to square one and that's it."

Umenyiora continues to rehab from arthroscopic knee surgery he underwent Aug. 19 after experiencing swelling following three practices. The defensive end said he had the condition in his knee since college. He says he felt pain in his knee last year and during the offseason but did not undergo the procedure until a few weeks into camp due to the lockout, which kept him from visiting with team doctors.

Umenyiora has yet to practice with the team since the surgery. Sources say the defensive end is not expected to play on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The defensive end didn't rule out a return this Sunday but also said he'll "hopefully" be back when asked about next week's game against the Cardinals.

"I haven't had any setbacks," Umenyiora said. "It is supposed to be a four-to-six week recovery and I am well within that range.

"I think now it is just a question that I know this is as good as it is going to feel, and it is not going to get any better, then I will go out and play on it," he added. "I feel urgency, I want to play and help them win. But at the same time I don't want to go out there for one or two games and not play the rest of the season. That would be dumb."

Umenyiora insisted that having surgery in the middle of camp was not a way of protesting his contract.

"I could have dragged this whole injury thing out this whole year and not have surgery, you understand what I mean?" Umenyiora said. "And continue to say it was hurting if I didn't want to play, but the fact of the matter is I want to get back on the football field and help this team."

Umenyiora wanted a new contract after having an NFL-record 10 forced fumbles to go with 11.5 sacks last season. He also said in a sworn affidavit as part of the players' lawsuit against the NFL during the lockout that general manager Jerry Reese had given him assurances of signing him to a new deal in the past.

Reese and Umenyiora clearly disagreed and the defensive end remains frustrated with his contract, which will pay him a total of $7.1 million in base salary this season and next year.

But Umenyiora said he will play hard this season even if he feels disrespected by the organization.

"You just have to find exactly what it is that you are playing for, a different motivation," he said. "If I was to sit over here and be like, OK, I'm going to go out and play for the Giants organization, then I might not go out there and give it my all.

"It is the same thing if you were to ask a soldier," he added. "I hate to compare football to war. But if you were to ask a soldier what they were fighting for, they won't tell you that they are fighting for the United States government. They will tell you they are fighting for the guy next to them, the guy that they bleed and sweat with.

"Maybe I am not getting paid the way I would like to but I can still go out there and play because I love those guys (Giants teammates and coaches), the fans respect me and support me, some of them anyway," he continued. "And my son won't even watch football unless he sees me playing."

After Umenyiora would not practice at the start of camp due to his contract squabble and a knee injury, the Giants briefly allowed Umenyiora's agent, Tony Agnone, to seek a trade for a first-round pick. When no team was willing to surrender that, the Giants rescinded their permission to seek a deal after a couple of days. They offered the defensive end performance and team incentives which Umenyiora declined.

"Well, I think it is just not right," said Umenyiora, who signed a six-year, $41 million contract extension in 2005. "I have made that mistake before. I signed something at the time I thought was good but in retrospect it wasn't right for me. I can't make that same mistake again. If I do sign that, then it seems like something has been done when in actuality nothing has really been done. So I'll just take my chances and keep playing."

Umenyiora says he believes his relationship with Reese has not been damaged by the contract dispute.

"Me and him have had discussions about that," Umenyiora said about his talks with Reese about their views on what was stated in the affidavit. "I can't really disclose anything that went down there. I have to be here. You understand. I have to be here. So I can't go around and be mad or act like the whole world is coming to an end. I still have to be here and still have to perform and I will do just that. I think we are OK."

Umenyiora, who turns 30 in November, believes he has more years left in him but he is not sure if there is a big payday out there for him. When asked to compare his situation to Michael Strahan, who held out of training camp in 2007 for a new deal, Umenyiora said he didn't have the kind of leverage Strahan did.

The defensive end acknowledged that the Giants have so many talented defensive ends like Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul that it hurt his leverage.

Tuck and just about every other Giants player supported Umenyiora during his holdout and the defensive end is extremely grateful for his teammates and coaches not holding the contract dispute against him. Umenyiora said he would like to remain a Giant but will not allow himself to hold out hope this season for a new contract or a potential trade to a team willing to sign him to a new deal.

"I don't even think about that at this point," Umenyiora said of hoping he will still get paid this season. "If I think about that, I will go out there and play bad. Once I made the decision I was going to play, that was it."

"I'd like it to be here," he added of his next contract coming with the Giants. "But I'm not a dummy. You know ... we'll see what happens."

Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com.

Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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