Postcard from camp: Giants
The contract dispute between the Giants and Osi Umenyiora is hurting the team
Rookie cornerback Prince Amukamara is out indefinitedly with a broken foot
As they did in 2010, the Giants could win 10 games -- and miss the playoffs
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Matt Gagne had to say about Giants camp in East Rutherford, N.J., which he visited on August 6. For an archive of all camp postcards, click here.
East Rutherford is about an hour north of the Jersey Shore, but there's still plenty of sunshine, blue skies and seagulls scrounging for food. As a result of the NFL lockout, the Giants are holding training camp in New Jersey for the first time since 1995, practicing at team headquarters (instead of Albany, N.Y.) across a sea of parking lots from New Meadowlands Stadium. There's a real bird problem here -- two, actually, now that the rival Eagles have assembled a so-called Dream Team in the NFC East. But the most immediate concern is the flock of gulls that keeps landing on the pristine practice fields. Workers scare them away either by driving carts in their direction or firing a flare gun that emits a high-pitched screech. (We've witnessed one drive-by shooting.) Sometimes no warning is given when the trigger is about to be pulled, causing bystanders to grab their ears and duck for cover. Naturally it's inspired more than a few Plaxico Burress jokes from onlookers.
1. The ongoing contract dispute between the Giants and Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora threatens team chemistry by the day, even if a winner already has been revealed. In the league-wide labor negotiations, that is. It's easy to lose track of simple logic when things deteriorate into a circus, such as Umenyiora missing the first day of camp and facing a $30,000 fine; him reportedly saying he never wanted to speak with general manager Jerry Reese again and then having a sit-down; the Giants telling Umenyiora's agent they could seek a trade on their own, only to rescind permission within 48 hours; Umenyiora attending practices but only riding a stationary bike because he's apparently contemplating knee surgery to repair a meniscus injury that, according to reports, could be managed without going under the knife. So, back to simple logic ...
In an email to The Associated Press last week, Umenyiora questioned the NFL's way of doing business. How is it that a player like Shaun O'Hara, the Giants' center for the past seven seasons, can be cut even though he was due $3.45 million in base salary through the 2011 season? If players can be released or forced to renegotiate, why can't they turn the table on general managers if the contracts they sign aren't truly binding?
"If you get injured, or they feel like you underperformed, they cut you without hesitation," Umenyiora wrote. "But if you clearly outplay your contract and ask for something to be done, you're a bad guy and not a team player. It's ridiculous."
He's right, of course, and also wrong. His point is spot on, but he's missing a larger one, because it's an issue that should've been worked out in the collective bargaining negotiations over the past four months. Players can negotiate how much guaranteed money they'll receive, but until the contract itself is a guarantee, teams will have all the leverage. It's the owners' greatest victory -- just ask former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer what digging your heels in can lead to. What doesn't follow simple logic is this: Why would the Giants even reconsider redoing a contract for someone facing potential surgery?
2. Brandon Jacobs is getting paid less and wants more, but not like Umenyiora does. The bruising back restructured his contract so the Giants could re-sign free agent Ahmad Bradshaw, who for the first time in four years had more carries (276) and more yards (1,235) than Jacobs did in 2010 (147 for 823). At age 29 and entering his seventh season, Jacobs came to the realization that "you could be as rich as you want to be and not win any games. That doesn't help you out. You'll just be an unsuccessful former player with a lot of money." Bradshaw, 25 and entering his fifth season, remains the feature back but Jacobs hopes to return to 2008 form (1,089 yards). "That's something I will be aiming for," he says. "Whatever happens, happens. I want to win games, I want to be successful as a team."
3. Should the Giants have tried harder to land Plaxico Burress? It's a question that could continually be asked this season, especially with the former Giant remaining in New York as a Jet. Burress chased green and wound up wearing it, signing a one-year deal worth more than $3 million that, according to reports, was three times the amount of guaranteed money the Giants had offered. Will they regret it?
Despite missing three games, second-year wideout Hakeem Nicks had a breakout season in 2010, catching 79 passes for 1,052 yards and 11 touchdowns. In his third year, Mario Manningham caught 62 passes for 944 yards and nine TDs, closing out the season with three straight 100-yard games. Both, however, are still learning the nuances of their position as questions are swirling about the passing game. Tight end Kevin Boss has bolted for the Raiders. Assuming he re-signs, Steve Smith could miss the first month while healing from microfracture surgery on his left knee. The trio of Domenik Hixon, Devin Thomas and Michael Clayton combined for two catches in 2010.
What's more: Nicks is 6-foot-1; Manningham just 5-11. Burress would have provided not only depth, but also height (6-5) that could have made Eli Manning look good throwing up jump balls. Such passes contributed to a league-high 25 interceptions last season.
It's time for safety Kenny Phillips to finally make his "Superman" nickname stick. A first-round pick of the Giants in 2008, Phillips was on the verge of becoming a marquee player before a degenerative knee condition derailed his sophomore season. He appeared in all 16 games as rookie, then started the first two in '09, pulling down a pair of interceptions before undergoing microfracture surgery. He returned last year and made 15 starts, but lined up deep to prevent his knee from being hit near the line of scrimmage. "Football is a violent game and I tried to minimize the collisions that he encountered," says defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, but no more: "I'm looking for him to take a quantum leap."
Cornerback Prince Amukamara, the longest holdout of this year's first-round draft picks, finally signed his contract on Friday after missing five practices. Now he'll miss even more. Amukamara, taken out of Nebraska with the 19th selection, fractured the fifth metatarsal in his left foot in just his second NFL practice on Saturday. He'll be out indefinitely following surgery. Giants tackle William Beatty suffered a similar injury last year and missed the first two months of the season. Asked on Friday what role he expected Amukamara to play this season, coach Tom Coughlin said it "depends on how fast he can learn a new language. It's all Chinese to him right now ... he has a lot of classroom work to make up." Now he has nothing but time to study.
The first half is favorable, as six of the Giants' first seven opponents finished no better than two games under .500 last season. The lone exception is a Week 3 trip to Philadelphia, where Big Blue will try to snap a six-game losing streak against the reloaded Eagles. Soon enough, they'll truly have their work cut out for them.
The final nine weeks include road games against the Patriots, Saints, Cowboys and Jets (though there's no traveling for that last one, to be played at New Meadowlands Stadium on Christmas Eve). They'll also face the Eagles and Cowboys again, this time at home, and host the defending Super Bowl champion Packers. The Giants faded down the stretch and missed the playoffs the past two seasons, even after posting 10 wins last year. It's a realistic number to see in the win column, but once again, it may not be enough to put the Giants in the postseason.