It’s been a running joke in New York sports media circles for some time now.
You talk to Eli Manning about his arm, you talk to Tom Coughlin about his team, and you talk to two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora … about his contract.
With the amount of ink and attention it’s gotten in recent seasons, Umenyiora’s contract could have had its own locker with the Giants, a podium with a microphone at Super Bowl Media Day and its own jersey number. Something with a dollar sign.
But after re-structuring the final year of his long-term deal and working out a new contract for the 2012 campaign late Friday afternoon, it was Osi Umenyiora, the player — not his contract — commanding the room’s attention on Monday. Umenyiora, a 10-year veteran, looked relaxed and relieved while standing in front of his locker.
“For the first time in a while,” the former two-time Pro Bowler said, “I don’t really have any issues.”
“[The contract] kept me up at night and I really didn’t like the way things were being handled by myself or anything,” Umenyiora said of his lingering unrest with his previous deal. “I’m just happy to be at work and be around my teammates and friends, my family basically. [The Giants] stepped up to the plate and they didn’t have to. They could have just allowed me to play out this last year, which in essence, I am doing. But they definitely, definitely showed me some love.”
“Osiiiiiii!” shouted Jason Pierre-Paul, Umenyiora’s All-Pro teammate as he walked by.
“What’s up, JP?!” Umenyiora screamed back, a smile stretched ear to ear.
He then explained how his Giants teammates stacked his locker with mail and miscelleanous garbage while he was missing from the team’s OTA sessions last month.
One of the few holdovers from the Giants’ 2007 Super Bowl squad and one of the most popular players in the locker room, Umenyiora was entering the final year of what came out to be a seven-year deal this season. To avoid any further delay in getting something done, he was forced to part ways (at least temporarily) with his longtime agent, Tony Agnone, and work directly with the Giants front office to figure out a dollar amount that made sense for 2012.
“Last summer was different,” he explained on Monday. “What I was looking for last year and what I was looking for this year are completely different. Things change. This year, I knew there was no way they were going to be able to give me a contract extension in line with what other people were getting. You obviously have Justin and JP coming up and you would have three defensive ends making a ridiculous amount of money. You put your franchise in a very difficult position. There was no way they were going to be able to give me an extension. All we pretty much were discussing was what can be done for this year and we will see how things play out after this year.”
Rational and realistic, Umenyiora insisted that if he was the GM of the Giants, he, too, would make Justin Tuck — “our face of our franchise” — and Jason Pierre-Paul — “he’s a phenom” — his top two priorities.
“You know, obviously I’m still a very good football player, but you can’t pay all of us,” he continued. “You can’t pay us all that kind of money. There’s just no way you can do that. You’re going to hamstring your franchise. So I don’t view it as a knock on me or a knock on the way I perform. But this is my 10th year in the league. And it’s JPP’s third and Tuck’s eighth. All of us are All-Pro players. You can’t pay us all like All-Pros. They had decisions to make and I completely respect them.”
The other team in town has a backup quarterback dominating headlines and back pages, an All-Pro cornerback in search of his third new contract in six years, and holes on the offensive line and at wide receiver. In the spring and summer, the Jets get the bulk of the Big Apple’s football attention.
And the Super Bowl champs seem to be more than OK with that. A good number of teammates supported Justin Tuck at his RUSH for Literacy event last Thursday, an even greater number will be at an Eli Manning-hosted bowling event on Tuesday, and they’ll all be in Washington D.C. on Friday to meet the President.
“We’re brothers, man,” Umenyiora said. “Things are good. We’re focused.”
It’s not often that the defending Super Bowl champions are the second-biggest show in town, but no one’s complaining.
No news is good news.
And though it may seem strange at first, both Umenyiora and the Giants brass are more than happy to not have his contract playing a starring role in 2012.