Knee surgery zaps Osi of leverage
With the news that Osi Umenyiora will miss the next 3-4 weeks after having his right knee surgically repaired Friday morning, the drama surrounding the Giants defensive end seems to be officially finished.
No more whispers about incentives to sweeten his contract. No more unhappy emails from Umenyiora about his status, or how he's being treated. No more read-between-the-lines comments from the Giants about whether Umenyiora's achy knee is really aching all that much, or whether his absence from the first week of training camp was more protest than pain.
No, it's done now. Umenyiora will miss the beginning of the regular season, in all likelihood, so the Giants will prepare and head into FedEx Field on Sept. 11 without him. Tom Coughlin, who tires quickly of the sideshow aspect of football, won't have to answer questions about Umenyiora's desire to be a Giant.
"It was better to do it now as opposed to midseason," Umenyiora said Friday in a statement released through the team. "It was going to have to be done, the only question was when. If I'm going to miss a little while, I would prefer it be now than at the crucial part of our season. It's the best decision for the team and myself."
Umenyiora, as he did when he missed all of the 2008 season coming off a Pro Bowl/Super Bowl year in 2007, will have to earn his next big payday on the field, as a Giant. There's no other way now.
Umenyiora's camp still may be unhappy about the two years and $7.1 million remaining on his contract, and he and his agent, Tony Agnone, may still want a new deal or a trade, but no one's dropping even a second-rounder on the Giants at this point.
And Jerry Reese, who hasn't had many things go his way in this lockout-shortened free-agency period, has gotten the upper hand with Umenyiora. There isn't anything more to discuss as far as the Giants are concerned.
Instead of being one of the better pass-rushers in the game, coming off a season with 10 forced fumbles, Umenyiora is now three months shy of 30 and coming off surgeries to both knees and his hip in the last three years.
It can change that quickly, and it has definitely changed for Umenyiora. Coughlin noted that Umenyiora "loves to practice," and he seemed genuinely buoyed by his three straight days of practice earlier this week. That's a good sign.
So, too, is Umenyiora's consistent effort through his eight seasons as a Giant despite not always being the good soldier. The six-year, $41-million deal he signed in 2005 paid him $15 million guaranteed in the first two years, but he hasn't been happy with it since he pocketed the big money and produced the big Super Bowl year.
Still, he has played on. He knew in 2009 he needed to return to an elite level to have a chance at a new deal, saying in that year's training camp, "I believe the more I focus on that [contract], the worse a player I become."
There was a danger of that happening this season, after all the back and forth through these last three weeks between Agnone shopping his client around, the Giants refusing to consider anything other than a first-round pick, incentives that seemed unreachable and a knee injury that could have been a smokescreen.
That's all over with now. Umenyiora may have proved his point by needing surgery, but his leverage is gone. The only way to get it back is to return with a vengeance.
The Giants won this battle. If Umenyiora comes back in a month and plays like he did last season, the Giants win the war, too.