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Giants’ core to return, but changes on horizon

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The New York Giants already started preparing to defend their Super Bowl title, just days after winning their second NFL title in five seasons.

General manager Jerry Reese said Thursday he expects a strong core of players to return next year, but cautioned "there will definitely be some changes." That's no surprise considering 20 players are set to become unrestricted free agents in March.

"There's a lot of planning, a lot of discussion on guys and on salaries and where we can go and where we can't go," Reese said in a conference call. "It's a lot of discussion to be had.

"But we'll be ready."

The Giants, just 7-7 with two games remaining in the regular season, finished with six straight wins, including a 21-17 victory over New England last Sunday in the Super Bowl. It was the second time coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning beat Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots for the title.

Chemistry and camaraderie were among the chief reasons the Giants were able to overcome a four-game losing streak and rebound to win the NFC East title in the last game of the regular season.

"Wins always make you love each other," Reese said. "Every team is different, every offseason a team changes, but there will be a strong core of our current players coming back. I can tell you that. But there will definitely be some changes."

Only four of New York's starters will be free agents: tackle Kareem McKenzie, linebacker Chase Blackburn, cornerback Aaron Ross and punter Steve Weatherford. Wide receiver Mario Manningham, defensive end Dave Tollefson, defensive tackle Rocky Bernard, cornerback Terrell Thomas and safety Deon Grant are among the key players that could test free agency.

Manningham, who lost his starting job to Pro Bowl wideout Victor Cruz, could get plenty of attention on the open market after making a sensational 38-yard catch on the Giants' go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter against the Patriots.

"It would be great to make splashy moves in the offseason," Reese said, "but our goal is to make good football decisions and that's what we try to do every year."

One of the top offseason issues involves Osi Umenyiora's contract situation. The two-time Pro Bowl defensive end was a training camp holdout last summer, and had harsh words for Reese after not getting a contract extension.

Umenyiora is slated to earn $3.975 million next season in the final year of a seven-year deal he signed in 2005.

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