- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff Writer
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After starting the 2011 season wanting a new contract or to be traded, Umenyiora now finds himself savoring every moment at the end of this season.
Umenyiora has one year remaining on his contract after this season worth just under $4 million. It's unlikely that Umenyiora would want to return without a raise and in a reserve role since Jason Pierre-Paul is now a starter. So Umenyiora knows this could be his last go-around with the Giants.
"I am really cherishing this opportunity," Umenyiora said on Thursday. "Probably more than everybody. I am really enjoying myself right now."
When asked why he's cherishing this, Umenyiora smiled.
"Really enjoying it, don't put me on the spot," Umenyiora said laughing. "Read between the lines. Really having a good time. I look around, I come in inside, I look around, I smile, I cherish it. I cherish it."
Umenyiora, 30, wanted a new contract and held out early in training camp. The team gave him and his agent a brief window to seek a trade before rescinding permission to do so. Umenyiora wanted to capitalize on his terrific 2010 season and get a raise for the 11.5 sacks and 10 forced fumbles he had last season.
He also said in a sworn affidavit as part of the Brady vs. NFL lawsuit during the lockout that general manager Jerry Reese told him in 2008 that if the defensive end were still playing at a high level in two years, he'd reward him with a new contract or trade him to a team that would pay him like a top-five defensive end.
After Umenyiora did not get what he wanted, he returned to practice in training camp. But after experiencing swelling in his knee following three practices, Umenyiora opted for arthroscopic knee surgery in mid-August which kept him out of the first three games of the season.
Umenyiora admitted to reporters in mid-September that he went for a new contract and failed.
"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 then. "Apparently it didn't work so we are right back to square one and that's it."
Saying that he wanted to play for his teammates, coaches and fans, Umenyiora had seven sacks and two forced fumbles in eight games before suffering a high ankle sprain that kept him out of four straight games.
He returned last Sunday night and had two sacks against Tony Romo to help the Giants clinch the NFC East. He said his ankle was sore but that he did not suffer a setback.
"I didn't re-injure it," Umenyiora said. "I think it was the lingering effect of what had happened. I kept on playing through that."
The Giants' pass rush has come to life in the last two weeks with 11 sacks and 13 quarterback hits. The secondary has had three interceptions during that span as well.
Because Pierre-Paul is having a Pro Bowl season with 16.5 sacks, the Giants kept their second-year stud on the right side, where he had been starting in place of the injured Umenyiora.
In his return game, Umenyiora came off the bench and played on both sides of the line. Normally he only plays on the right side and Umenyiora said playing on the other end "felt so awkward man."
"[Umenyiora's presence] puts a lot more speed on the field," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. "He looks good on the right and the left [sides]. I just got to convince him he looks good on the left side. He looked good to me, he might feel awkward but he looked good."
"He is definitely the missing piece for us," Fewell added.
Umenyiora hopes to continue showing his value to the team on Sunday against the Falcons in the wild-card game.
But he knows in the back of his mind that this could potentially be his final game as a Giant after nine seasons.
And that is why he's cherishing every moment.
"It feels good," Umenyiora said of returning to the postseason after a two-year drought. "I think I can tell you that I am just happy that we are able to get back here after all the talk of us not making it and even the talk of this year of us not being in, we still stuck together and pulled through and it definitely feels good."
Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com.
With his contract status in limbo, Osi Umenyiora is enjoying this time with the Giants.