The shedding of the Giants' unwanted started today with the release of middle linebacker Antonio Pierce.
Beginning on March 5, we proudly present the Karlos Dansby Watch.
For anyone who believes this is a surprise, consider this. Even before the bulging disc in his neck rendered him idle the final seven games of the season, Pierce had looked slow against both the run and pass after the snap. The old savvy was still there, and he always did a great job of quarterbacking the defense pre-snap. But he simply was not able to get to ballcarriers.
The fact that he was found to have a neck problem simply made the decision easier to replace him in the lineup. And now, given all that and the dangers the problem may present in the future, it looks like Pierce's career could be over. However, his agent Drew Rosenhaus, said on Twitter that Pierce is healthy and that several teams are interested in him.
That could be just agent-speak in an effort to drum up business for the nine-year veteran. But Pierce appears to be interested in playing again.
"A.P. came right in and took the bull by the horns from day one and was very instrumental in helping the New York Giants win a lot of games and accomplishing a lot of our goals during his time here,” general manager Jerry Reese said. “He has been an outstanding Giant and we wish him nothing but the best for his family and future."
It's truly amazing how quickly a career can head downhill. Since Pierce arrived in 2005 free agency from Washington, where he'd spent his first four years predominantly on special teams, he became one of the Giants' defensive leaders. Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora's pass rush skill overshadowed him at times, but Pierce's study habits and work ethic made him a favorite among teammates. The 31-year-old earned Pro Bowl recognition in 2006, and was a huge reason behind the defensive resurgence that led the Giants to a Super Bowl victory in 2007.
"When I came to New York I wanted to be a dominant player and help this organization win a championship, which we did in Super Bowl XLII," Pierce said. "I wanted to be a leader and I did that and was voted a captain for three years and another two years when we didn’t have captains and I was still out there. I wanted to be a guy who always led by example, a guy you could count on every day. You never had to worry if A.P. was going to be at practice or if he was going to show up for the game. I was going to be there."
Pierce made $4.35 million in 2009 and was due to make $4.75 million in 2010, the final year of his contract. The Giants, therefore, are saving some cash for themselves, assuming an uncapped year is coming up. But if, by chance, there is a new collective bargaining agreement by the March 5 start of free agency, and assuming a salary cap is part of that, they will have saved themselves $4.75 million under the new cap.
In either case, Reese has said the Giants expect to be prudent in their spending. They undoubtedly could put that saved money to use in pursing Arizona's Dansby, an inside linebacker with coverage skills who will be regarded as one of the few free agent prizes this year.
Jonathan Goff, an enthusiastic but raw player, heading into his third season, eventually took over for Pierce and could be another candidate as his successor.
But the future of the Giants' middle defense no longer includes Pierce. Asked what he is most proud of from his five years with the Giants, Pierce said, "Obviously, from a team standpoint, the Super Bowl. Personally, it’s how the guys on the team looked at me. They looked at me as a guy that led. I led by example."
Said Tom Coughlin, "When we brought him in here we were interested in A.P. for all of the dimensions he brought to the table – his leadership qualities, his natural charismatic ability to rally the troops, he loved football, he’s a very smart football player – he took great pride in studying the tape and knowing what everybody did on defense. He had the ability to communicate assignments on defense as the leader in the huddle. He was a three-time elected captain here with the New York Giants. He demonstrated great leadership. He has been an outstanding football player.
"Think of the screen play against Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game and the tremendous play that he made. Had he not made that play who knows where that ball would have gone?"
"He has worn that Giant uniform very, very proudly."
That play Coughlin spoke about saved a touchdown in the icebox that doubled as Lambeau Field. Pierce sliced his way through three defenders to hold the receiver to a minimal gain, marking one of the greatest plays he ever made as a Giant.
The organization broke the news to him in two meetings, yesterday with Coughlin and today with Reese.
His final season with the Giants ended with 51 tackles (31 solo), three tackles for losses, a sack, two passes defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. His five-year totals with the Giants were 537 tackles (322 solo), 7.0 sacks, six forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and four interceptions. Pierce also had 44 postseason tackles (28 solo).
Pierce led the Giants with 159 tackles in 2006 (when he became the first Giants linebacker to play in the Pro Bowl since Jessie Armstead in 2001), 116 in 2007 and 113 in 2008. He was at the forefront again before the bulging disc was discovered two days prior to the Giants’ Nov. 22 victory over Atlanta.