Osi Umenyiora a Giant no-mora
The inevitable has become official. The imminent has become now. Osi Umenyiora is a member of the Falcons.
The defensive end signed a long-anticipated deal with Atlanta this evening, reportedly a two-year contract that will end his career with the Giants. A 2003 draft pick, Umenyiora played 10 seasons with the Giants and leaves the team with 75 career sacks, fourth-most in franchise history (since sacks became an official stat, anyway). He trails only Michael Strahan (141.5), Lawrence Taylor (132.5) and Leonard Marshall (79.5).
Umenyiora had left the door open for a return to the Giants, but many suspected he had his eyes on the Falcons from the start since he has an offseason home in the Atlanta area. When that team released pass rushing defensive end John Abraham earlier this offseason the match seemed bound to occur. Umenyiora visited with the Falcons last week and over several days a deal was hammered out.
Umenyiora’s last several years with the Giants were filled with drama. He walked out on the team for one afternoon in 2009. He spent most of the 2011 preseason on an exercise bike, unhappy about his contract, and returned only to require knee surgery. He became a role player, a pass-rush specialist who came off the bench for the Giants. In the last two seasons he started only 11 of 25 games he played in.
Umenyiora seemed to understand that the Giants did not have a place for him as an every-down defensive end with captain Justin Tuck and the development of Jason Pierre-Paul. He said earlier this offseason that he was looking for a team where he could become a full-time player, a place where he could fulfill his goal of being the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year.
The Falcons may afford him that opportunity.
Strangely enough, Umenyiora is not the only Giants mainstay of the last decade or so to leave for the NFC South today. Chase Blackburn, who evolved from undrafted free agent in 2005 to special teams captain to starting middle linebacker in Super Bowl XLVI, agreed to a two-year deal with the Panthers on Wednesday as well. Blackburn played for the Giants for eight seasons and, like Umenyiora, they were the only team he ever knew.
Of course Blackburn’s career with the Giants wouldn’t have been as impressive without the final stanza in which he returned and became a starter. Ignored in free agency for most of the 2011 season and out of football, Blackburn was contemplating a career in teaching when injuries forced the Giants to bring him back in late November. Blackburn stepped into the starting middle linebacker role and immediately made an impact. He started in Super Bowl XLVI and made a key interception in the fourth quarter to help the Giants beat the Patriots. Despite pressure from backup Mark Herzlich for most of the 2012 season, Blackburn held onto the starting job throughout the season.
The Giants expressed minimal interest in bringing Blackburn back, offering him a one-year contract at a minimum salary for 2013. His fate as a former Giant seemed sealed when the Giants signed Dan Connor earlier in free agency, effectively replacing Blackburn at middle linebacker. Ironically, Connor began his career with the Panthers, where Blackburn will now be playing.
Blackburn rejoins former Giants pro personnel guru Dave Goettleman in Carolina. Goettleman is now the Panthers' general manager.
The Giants will play the Panthers in Carolina in the 2013 regular season. They will not face the Falcons in the regular season.