Tara Sullivan: Osi, Giants making nice on new deal

By Tara Sullivan/The Record (Hackensack N.J.) (MCT)
Feb. 25, 2012 at 6:03 p.m.
Updated Feb. 24, 2012 at 8:25 p.m.

INDIANAPOLIS _ If the tide officially has turned on the oft-contentious relationship between Osi Umenyiora and the only professional football team he's ever played for, a Saturday morning admission from Giants' general manager Jerry Reese here at the NFL Scouting Combine will go down as the day detente began.

With a public declaration that he is open to working on a long-term contract extension for Umenyiora, Reese swung open a door that as recently as training camp seemed sealed, locked and bolted forever. Umenyiora's dissatisfaction with the six-year, $41 million extension he signed back in 2005 festered from the moment the ink dried, but it was the onset of the lockout-shortened 2011 season that brought that frustration into the public forum.

Umenyiora staged an odd, unofficial holdout, using injuries and exercise biking to keep himself off the practice field in the hopes of either forcing a trade or restructuring the final two years of the deal, which paid him $3.125 million last season and is scheduled to pay him $3.975 for the upcoming one. After realizing he'd lost the negotiating ploy and after submitting to knee surgery, Umenyiora was back on the field late in the season, wreaking pass-rushing havoc all the way through the Giants' improbable Super Bowl win.

Now, it seems, he wants to be back for more. Between his own admission during a Friday radio interview that the Giants could be eligible for some sort of hometown discount and Reese's softening stance a day later, it's clear this isn't 2011 anymore. Back then, Reese was adamant in his unwillingness to renegotiate a contract with two years left on it, going as far as authorizing Umenyiora's agents to seek a trade, if they could land a No. 1 pick in return. Saturday, when Reese was asked directly about the possibility of an extension, he sang a much more harmonious tune.

"We've got a lot to talk about. It could happen," Reese said. "But we have a lot of issues to look at and we just have to formulate a good game plan and see if we can get it done."

Now it's time to find out if Umenyiora was telling the truth about what he wants, if he's serious about the desire to retire a Giant, because a long-term deal that's satisfactory to both sides is clearly the best solution for all involved. The Giants would retain all the moving parts of their ferocious NASCAR defensive line, would have three Pro Bowl defensive ends in Umenyiora, defensive captain Justin Tuck and emerging breakout star Jason Pierre-Paul and would have a dominant defense in its prime.

A happy Umenyiora is a productive Umenyiora, as evidenced by the impact he had when he made a conscious decision to put aside his frustration, to block out his pain and take to the field with a positive outlook. Nine sacks in nine games later, with an additional 3{ during the championship playoff run, Umenyiora proved he is still a premier talent. If the two sides come to happy agreement, the memory of that long, strange trip through training camp will be erased forever.

"I think that was overblown a little bit about how unhappy he was. I think he said that too," Reese said. "People thought it was much more contentious than it was. I don't think it was that contentious at all. He and I had some great talks and he understands it's a business for us. We understand it's a business for him. So hopefully things will work out."

During his conversation on Sirius radio, Umenyiora talked of his desire to stay with the Giants, one rooted in the camaraderie he feels with many long-term teammates. That joy is what led him to say, "You know what's funny? If it came down to me taking less to stay here, I would" – but he also maintained his practical side.

"I would love to stay but everything has to make sense," he said. "There's really only one issue (the contract) at hand with them. It's such a business and as you get older in this league you start to see how things unfold and how teams really operate. That mystique of everything being fun and you just going out there enjoying yourself, it kind of fades because you see what it really is."

Umenyiora isn't the only business decision on Reese's off-season plate, with the possible departure of free agent wide receiver Mario Manningham feeling more like a certainty with each passing day, and the upcoming roster bonus ($500,000 due next month) and fat contract ($4.9 million in 2012) to Brandon Jacobs looming as another problem in need of fixing. Though one source familiar with the Giants' thinking indicated Jacobs is open to reducing his salary by as much as half if it includes a one-year extension, Reese is also going to have to deal with players who need raises (Victor Cruz) and those who might face reductions (David Diehl).

"We have a lot of issues to look into," Reese said. "There's a long time before we play, so we have some time."

Not six months ago, it felt like Osi Umenyiora's time with the Giants was up. If that has changed, we'll look back on Saturday at the combine as the day detente began.


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