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Giants must fix their festering Osi problem: Pay the man

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – So Steve Smith has joined the enemy, the Giants aren't happy and life goes on. Anything else? Well, yeah. With the millions the Giants saved by not re-signing Smith, tight end Kevin Boss and defensive tackle Barry Cofield, they're free to invest their money elsewhere ... and I have an idea where they can start.

Osi Umenyiora.

The Giants and their star defensive end are locked in a cold war that, until this week, showed no sign of thawing. But then Umenyiora resumed pass-rush drills away from the team Wednesday and was cleared by a knee specialist Thursday after complaining of soreness. Now, it appears there is nothing preventing him from returning to practice ... and returning to play.

That is the good news. The bad is that Umenyiora still feels the club reneged on an alleged promise to either renegotiate his contract or trade him to a team that will give him what he wants. Granted, the Giants offered to throw in incentives like $250,000 if he reaches 12 sacks or $500,000 if he makes the Pro Bowl, but that's not how you take care of your stars.

Tearing up old contracts and offering long-term security is.

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I offer Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins and the New England Patriots as Exhibit A. Mankins didn't want to return to the club, not after he believed it reneged on past promises for a new contract, and unsuccessfully sought to gain freedom from New England.

Like Umenyiora, he was furious. Unlike Umenyiora, his employer responded. The Patriots this week signed him to a six-year extension, and, suddenly, Mankins is a happy camper again.

I suggest the Giants pay attention. In Umenyiora, they have a premier pass rusher, a guy who last year coupled a team-high 11.5 sacks with an NFL-record 10 forced fumbles. He is a disruptive force on a defense that may have to carry the Giants this season, but he is more than that. He is an indispensible playmaker, much as Justin Tuck is on the other side, and if you don't believe me, listen to former teammate Barry Cofield, now with Washington.

"What," I asked Cofield the other day, "would the loss of Umenyiora mean to the Giants?"

"It would be devastating," he said. "JPP (defensive end Jason Paul-Pierre) has a bright future, but he's in a great spot right now. He can back up (Umenyiora and Tuck), coming in on third down, and be deadly. But if you throw him in the fire instead of Osi, that's a lot of forced fumbles, that's a lot of turnovers and that's a lot of game experience that you're losing."

Only the Giants won't lose them. After physicians cleared Umenyiora on Thursday, it appears as if his next move is on to the practice field -- and that's a welcome relief for a club that has taken body blows this summer. At one point, it didn't appear as if Umenyiora or the Giants would budge. Now, it looks as if Umenyiora will do what he must ... which is to live up to his contract, return to the team and play the season.

The question, of course, is how he plays. I don't expect an Albert Haynesworth meltdown, which forced the Redskins to cut their losses last December and suspend the defensive tackle for the balance of the season. That won't happen here because, basically, Osi Umenyiora is not Albert Haynesworth, and let me leave it at that.

But it doesn't mean Umenyiora forgets what has gone down because I guarantee he doesn't. It's how that affects him and his teammates that should concern the Giants.

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They know Umenyiora stared down the club, and they now know he will return. But they also know he didn't get what he wanted, and this just in, people: The New England Patriots this season are paying Shaun Ellis more ($4 million) than the Giants are Umenyiora ($3.125 million). Tell me that makes sense because it doesn't.

OK, OK, I get that he signed a contract that still has two years left on it, but he signed it six years ago and outplayed the deal. It's time to take care of him because, as New England demonstrated, that's what you do with your stars.

And make no mistake: Osi Umenyiora is one of the Giants' biggest and brightest stars.

"The more outstanding players you have," said coach Tom Coughlin, "the more flexibility you have; the more opportunities to pick and choose how you want to play and who you want to play and how many personnel combinations you want to come up with."

Precisely. Umenyiora is one of the Giants' outstanding players, and you satisfy them because, as Coughlin said, the more outstanding players you have the better you can be. So take care of Osi Umenyiora and don't give him what he wants; give him what he deserves, which is a pay hike.

"He's a big reason for our success, there's no getting around that," said Tuck. "I mean, our chances of making a lot of noise in this league go tremendously higher if I have (number) 72 opposite me."

Tuck is one of the team leaders and one of the premier defensive players in the league. When he speaks his message carries weight, and he conceded that he spoke to the team's co-owner and CEO John Mara, as well as general manager Jerry Reese, about Umenyiora's situation and the importance of returning him to the squad.

"The conversation wasn't intended to be about Osi," he said, "but it went that way a little bit. I think they understand it. The urgency is heightening."

He was talking about resolving Umenyiora's stalemate with the club, and having him return to the practice field is not a solution. Rewarding him is. Look, the Giants just lost a couple of key weapons on offense, though Smith might not have returned until the middle of the season. They just lost Cofield on defense, too. So enough is enough. Stop losing key players and start keeping them.

Green Bay did when it listened to quarterback Aaron Rodgers and kept wide receiver James Jones and fullback John Kuhn. The Giants should take the hint and listen to Tuck and Cofield.

"Honestly," said Cofield, "when a guy has 11 1/2 sacks and forces 10 fumbles he's playing at an elite level, and it seems like guys playing at an elite level at defensive end in this league are making over $10 million a year.

"So he's making $3 million. Now, I'm not a mathematician, but it makes sense (to give him a new contract). Maybe he doesn't have to get up to where the top-level guy is, but (they should give him) a little raise to show appreciation for all the work he's put in.

"He's been hurt, and he's come back, and the Giants gave him opportunities. So I think a compromise will be made."

So do I. One side already is budging. It's time the other does, too.

"You think he plays?" I asked Cofield.

"The Giants want to win," he said, "so he'll be out there."


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