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WP: Giants on Move -- If Manning Is the Real Deal

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Giants on Move -- If Manning Is the Real Deal

By Mark Maske

Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, May 26, 2005; 11:47 AM


The New York Giants can only hope that they'll end up remembering last Nov. 15 not as the day on which the competitive portion of their 2004 season ended, but as the day their renaissance began.

That's the day that Coach Tom Coughlin announced he was benching veteran Kurt Warner as the starting quarterback and going with Eli Manning, the top overall choice in last year's draft who was obtained by the Giants in a draft-day trade with the San Diego Chargers. The Giants were 5-4 at the time and were in the thick of the oh-so-forgiving NFC playoff chase. They didn't win again until their final game of the season, losing Manning's first six starts to stretch their losing streak to eight games before winning their season finale to finish 6-10, and Manning looked like a wide-eyed rookie more often than he resembled a savior-in-the-making.

But those are the heartaches that come with turning things over to a young would-be franchise quarterback, and General Manager Ernie Accorsi says he remains convinced that Manning is on his way to being a special player. The Giants' offseason has been all about trying to improve Manning's working conditions, from upgrading his offensive line to improving his receiving corps to attempting (although ultimately failing) to add a veteran backup to replace the departed Warner as Manning's mentor.

The Giants certainly appear to be a better team than the version that finished last season, although that might not be evident in the early stages of next season as the club continues to endure Manning's growing pains. The offensive line was a major problem area last season, with first Warner and then Manning often looking like he was just trying to survive a game instead of win it. The Giants spent heavily in free agency to try to remedy that, signing offensive tackle Kareem McKenzie -- formerly of the New York Jets -- to a seven-year, $37.5 million contract that included a $12.5 million signing bonus.

Getting Manning a deep receiving threat also was a priority, and the Giants accomplished that by landing former Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Plaxico Burress. It took some patience -- and a change of agents by Burress -- for the Giants to get it done, however. When the free-agent market opened in March, it appeared that Burress would be a coveted player. He wasn't, and it looked like the Giants would pass on him when they took the unusual step of announcing after a visit by him -- postponed once by Burress -- that they no longer were interested.

But Burress, unable to get a team to meet his contract demands, dismissed Michael Harrison as his agent and hired Drew Rosenhaus. For all the criticism that Rosenhaus has received this offseason for his clients wanting to rework existing contracts, he is a pragmatic deal-maker who generally knows when to stop trying to fight a losing battle and simply get the best contract for his player that he can. That's what he did with Burress, renewing negotiations with the Giants, who improved their offer slightly and signed Burress to a six-year, $25 million contract that included $8.25 million in bonuses.

Burress had only 35 catches for the Steelers last season, and he didn't reach 1,000 receiving yards in either of the last two seasons. But he's only 27. He's a potential big play-maker who averaged 19.9 yards per reception last season, and is younger and more explosive than veteran Ike Hilliard, who was released by the Giants. Astonishingly, the Giants got a total of zero touchdown catches last season from their usual starting wide receivers, Hilliard and Amani Toomer.

Toomer, though, is a solid receiver whose performance should improve as the rest of the offense functions better. Manning now has some good players around him in tailback Tiki Barber, tight end Jeremy Shockey and wideouts Toomer and Burress.

Warner voided his contract and exited as a free agent, not wanting to stay with the team to back up Manning. The Giants signed veteran quarterback Jim Miller to serve as Manning's new mentor, but reached an injury settlement with him and released him after he underwent hip surgery. They claimed Tim Hasselbeck off waivers after he was released by the Washington Redskins and, at least for now, seem content with him as Manning's primary backup. They also will take quarterbacks Jesse Palmer and Jared Lorenzen to training camp.

The Giants also made a big-money free-agent signing on defense, prying middle linebacker Antonio Pierce -- another Rosenhaus client -- from the Redskins for a six-year, $26 million contract that included a $6.5 million signing bonus. Pierce was a standout for the Redskins' superb defense last season, thriving because he did everything the coaches told him to do and rarely was caught out of position. But he is not an overwhelmingly talented player and he could be a disappointment if the system in which he's playing isn't sound or if he tries to do too much to justify the handsome contract he landed.

This year's first-round draft choice went to the Chargers in the Manning trade last year, but the Giants managed to aid their defense by getting LSU cornerback Corey Webster in the second round and Notre Dame defensive end Justin Tuck in the third round. Tuck, in particular, could be an immediate contributor as a pass-rusher.

The Giants' veteran players had their troubles adjusting to Coughlin's taskmaster ways last season, and they were in the jumble of NFC East also-rans -- with the Redskins and Dallas Cowboys -- that finished seven games behind the division-winning Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants should be better next season, but it might take a while. Manning will have a full season of NFL starting experience under his belt around midseason, and the Giants probably will need to be satisfied with taking strides in the second half of the season toward being a good team. But they had a good offseason and, as long as Manning is the real deal, they are building toward being a contender in 2006 and beyond.

Around the League

Some in the league viewed Wednesday's snubbing of Houston as the host of the 2009 Super Bowl as a byproduct of the revenue-sharing debate now raging among the NFL's "have" and "have-not" teams. The Texans are a "have" club, and some in the league believe the owners of less prosperous franchises did not want to reward Houston at a time when the full ownership body cannot reach a consensus on a plan to transfer more locally generated revenues from wealthy teams to needier clubs.

The owners, on their fourth ballot, awarded the 2009 Super Bowl to Tampa. The other finalist was Atlanta, which had been viewed as the co-favorite -- with Houston -- before the vote. Houston and Miami were eliminated earlier in the voting process, which is conducted by secret ballot.

The owners completed a two-day meeting in Washington without agreeing to a revenue-sharing plan that would be part of a new labor deal with the players' union. It hadn't been expected that the owners would reach a consensus on revenue-sharing this week, but Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said the group may have left D.C. further from an accord than it was when this week's meeting began. The owners made plans to reconvene in two weeks for a two-day meeting in which the ongoing revenue-sharing discussions and stadium issues in Dallas and Indianapolis will be the primary topics. . . .

To no one's surprise, Arizona Cardinals Coach Dennis Green named Warner the starting quarterback. Warner signed with the Cardinals as a free agent after leaving the Giants. . . . Free-agent offensive tackle L.J. Shelton, who was released by Arizona, is scheduled to visit the Texans today.

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To no one's surprise, Arizona Cardinals Coach Dennis Green named Warner the starting quarterback. Warner signed with the Cardinals as a free agent after leaving the Giants. .

I thought Green felt highly of his QB before last season. I guess everyone was right that he should have drafted a QB with the 3rd pick in last year's draft. Warner is simply a plugin.

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