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Umenyiora to Giants: I'll quit if I don't start

New York Giants' Osi Umenyiora (72) heads for

New York Giants' Osi Umenyiora (72) heads for the locker room after pre-game practice before a game against the Dallas Cowboys. (December 6, 2009) Credit: John Dunn

Osi Umenyiora's issues with the Giants over playing time remain unresolved, and the defensive end said if he's not a starter in 2010, he won't play at all.

"I'm not going to be a backup player, I can promise you that," Umenyiora said in an interview on WFAN Wednesday. "I'll stop playing football before I do that ever again."

Umenyiora was relegated to a third-down pass-rusher over the final five games of the season, and the sting of that demotion still lingers for him.

"This has been just the worst offseason of my entire life," he said. "I can't think of a time when things were this bad during the offseason. You're supposed to be relaxing but I can't relax because all I can think of is the things that took place last season. For me, its not something that I'm going to do and if I'm asked to come back and do that, then I'll just stop playing football."

Umenyiora said that although his spat with defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan before the season led to him leaving the team for a few hours, once he and Sheridan came to terms on that issue they got along fine. Umenyiora even said that Sheridan was not to blame for a Giants defense that gave up more points than only one other team in franchise history.

"I don't think there's any individual who played outstanding all season," Umenyiora said. "Everybody had little lulls and sometimes somebody would play well, but for the most part in each individual game whenever we lost I think it was a whole total team collapse. You can't blame the defensive coordinator. Obviously he made some bad calls, but if you have the players in place I think you can make up for that. We just didn't play well at all."

Sheridan was ultimately fired the day after the 2009 season ended. He was replaced by Perry Fewell a few weeks later. Umenyiora said he hasn't yet spoken to Fewell.

After the final game at Giants Stadium, Umenyiora suggested that he might not be a Giant in the future. He said later that week that he wanted to play for the Giants, but there had to be changes. Many interpreted that as meaning the dismissal of Sheridan, but Umenyiora said that wasn't the case. Clearly he was talking more about his role in the defense and whether he can be an every-down defensive end or just a role player.

"Did it go through my mind? Obviously yes," Umenyiora said of the possibility that his days as a Giant were over. "You come to a situation where you've been here for a long time and you won [a] Super Bowl, you've been to the Pro Bowl a couple of times, and then things like that start happening. You start getting benched, you're coming in on a third-down rush, I think it almost seemed as if the writing was on the wall at that particular time. I felt like I had worn out my welcome."

Fewell, who spoke with reporters last week, wouldn't commit to Umenyiora being a full-time starter, saying only that he's a "football player." Tom Coughlin, late in the season, noted that Umenyiora is "very much in our plans" and called him "a very important asset to our team." But no one has come out and said he'll be reinstalled as a starter.

Umenyiora said he loves playing for the Giants and hopes to finish his career with the team. He's under contract until 2012. But he knows that means little in the business of the NFL and he can be cut loose at any time. Or he can walk away. Until then, though, the rift clearly remains.

"I hope it's not [over]," he said of his Giants career. "Hopefully things can be rectified, things can be resolved. But we'll see."

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