EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - Two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora is close to returning to the New York Giants’ lineup and surprisingly is still happy to be with the team despite a failure to get his contact renegotiated.
Umenyiora had no regrets about his offseason run-in with general manager Jerry Reese, a training camp holdout and his decision to put his name on an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL during the recent labor dispute.
The 29-year-old Umenyiora said his arthroscopically repaired right knee is feeling better and he expects to play again soon. It seems unlikely that it will be Sunday when the Giants (1-1) renew their NFC East rivalry with the Eagles (1-1).
“I want to play. I want to help them win,” Umenyiora said Thursday. “I feel like I can do some things that will make this team better. I feel an urgency, but at the same time, I don’t want to go out there for one or two games and not be able to play for the rest of the season. That would just be dumb. You have to wait for this to be close to 100 percent.”
The locker room discussion was Umenyiora’s first public comments since last season. His only comments during his holdout came in emails to The Associated Press.
Umenyiora understands that some Giants fans question his desire to play for the team after his offseason run in with Reese in which he alleged the general manager reneged on a verbal agreement to rework his contract. He will earn $3.1 million this season.
The fans’ perception of Umenyiora worsened when he had surgery less than a week after reporting to camp.
“I could have dragged this injury thing out this whole year and not had surgery, you understand what I mean,” said Umenyiora, who said his knee bothered him all last season and was swelling after each day of training camp. “I could have just said it was hurting if I didn’t want to play. But I wanted to get back on the football field and help this team. I decided to have it.”
Umenyiora said his knee may never be 100 percent again, but he believes he has a couple of good seasons left. His 11 1/2 sacks last season tied Justin Tuck for the team lead and his 10 forced fumbled tied an NFL single-season record.
Tuck said his relationship with Reese is not as bad as it is being portrayed, and that the teams owners understand his contract problems and holdout were all part of the business side of sports.
He added that fans for the most part don’t understand the nature of football contracts in general, not just his.
“I am happy I am still on the team,” he said. “It’s just a business at the end of the day. I talked to the owners and we don’t mention the contract thing. At the end of the day, they understand, just like I understand, it’s all business, a short-lived business as far as players. We have to try as best to get what we can. I am happy I am here with my team. Whatever happens from this point out, I’m not talking about contract. Whenever it is time for them to do the right thing, I think they will.”
Once he returns, Umenyiora said his motivation to play will come from his teammates.
“That’s what I am playing for now. I love these guys, my coaches. I have a tremendous amount of respect for them,” he said. “Maybe I am not getting paid the way I would like to, but I can go out and play because I still love them.”
Umenyiora said in the two or three days of training he participated, he realized the importance of football and his teammates in his life.
“I realized that they almost kind of protected me from everything,” he said. “Once I was on the field it was just so much fun, talking trash with (Will) Beatty and going back and forth. It was fun. I love to play.”
He also insisted he had no regrets.
“At some point you have to go for it,” he said. “If it work, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Apparently, it didn’t work and we’re right back to square one. That’s it.”
When asked if he wanted to sign his next contract with the Giants, he smiled.
“I would like it to be here, but I am not a dummy,” he said. “We’ll see wheat happens.”
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