The New York Giants, like the Dallas Cowboys, are having an active offseason, trying to close the gap on the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East.
The Giants made their third significant free-agent addition Thursday when they agreed to a six-year, $25 million contract with wide receiver Plaxico Burress. After adding middle linebacker Antonio Pierce to their defense and tackle Kareem McKenzie to their offensive line, the Giants obtained Burress to give quarterback Eli Manning another option in the passing game alongside wideout Amani Toomer, tight end Jeremy Shockey and tailback Tiki Barber.
The Eagles won the NFC East by seven games last season even while resting their regulars in the final two games to avoid injuries before the playoffs. The Giants, Cowboys and the Washington Redskins each finished 6-10. But while the Redskins are being unusually restrained on the player-acquisition front this offseason, the Cowboys and Giants have been busy making upgrades.
The Cowboys have signed quarterback Drew Bledsoe, guard Marco Rivera, defensive tackle Jason Ferguson and cornerback Anthony Henry as free agents, and they have two first-round choices in next month's draft. The Giants are without a first-round draft pick, having surrendered it to the San Diego Chargers last year as part of the Manning trade, but they are fortifying their roster in free agency. They also have added kicker Jay Feely, veteran backup quarterback Jim Miller and defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy.
The Burress deal came together rapidly Thursday, only a week after the Giants announced that they were no longer interested in Burress. Last week, Burress postponed a meeting with the Giants, indicating that he was staying at home in South Florida because he was sick. When he finally showed up two days later, he declined to undergo a physical and rejected a six-year, $24 million contract offer by the Giants that included $8 million in bonus money. He headed to Minnesota for a visit with the Vikings. The Giants, frustrated by their dealings with Burress and agent Michael Harrison, took the unusual step of issuing a written statement saying that their offer to Burress had been withdrawn, and they began pursuing free-agent receivers Corey Bradford and David Terrell.
But the Giants didn't sign another wideout, and Burress dismissed Harrison as his agent and hired Drew Rosenhaus to represent him. Rosenhaus is among the agents league-wide who have realized in recent years that teams have come to do most of their big spending in free agency within a few days after the market opens, and those players who don't strike deals quickly are left scrambling to find jobs later on while trying to get whatever little bit of money is left in clubs' budgets.
Rosenhaus, who negotiated Pierce's recent deal with the Giants, had to hold still until Thursday because of a rule requiring an agent to wait five days before negotiating on behalf of a new client. But he wasted little time, and Burress's deal was completed well before Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi's scheduled departure today for the league meetings in Hawaii. Burress underwent a physical for the Giants on Thursday, and Rosenhaus convinced the club to reinstate its previous contract offer and even make some improvements to it. This deal includes $8.25 million in bonuses -- a $5 million signing bonus and a $3.25 million option bonus next year.
It had appeared when the free-agent market opened that Burress, a two-time 1,000-yard receiver in five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers after being selected with the eighth overall choice in the 2000 draft, would be a coveted player. He wasn't, sitting by idly while fellow free-agent wideouts Muhsin Muhammad and Derrick Mason signed elsewhere. But he and Rosenhaus managed to salvage a more-than-respectable contract, and the Giants perhaps managed to inch just a little bit closer to the Eagles' level in the process.
Burress had only 35 catches for the Steelers last season but averaged 19.9 yards per catch. He replaces Ike Hilliard, who was released by the Giants, as the starter opposite Toomer. Neither Toomer nor Hilliard had a touchdown catch last season, and Hilliard averaged only 8.9 yards per reception.
The Giants probably still will have to endure some growing pains by Manning next season. But they are crossing their fingers that they and Manning will improve as the season progresses and that they perhaps could be formidable by the second half of the season, by which point Manning will have had a full season as an NFL starter after taking over for the departed Kurt Warner nine games into last season.
E. Smith Signs Ceremonial Cowboys' Deal
Tailback Emmitt Smith signed a one-year contract with the Cowboys on Thursday that will enable him to officially retire as a member of the team. Once Smith's retirement papers are submitted to the league, the Cowboys can place him on their reserve-retired list. Smith, the NFL's career rushing leader, announced his retirement during Super Bowl week and said he wanted to retire as a member of the Cowboys, with whom he spent 13 seasons before finishing his career with two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals . . . .
Houston retained Tony Banks as its backup quarterback by re-signing the unrestricted free agent to a two-year, $2.5 million contract that includes an $800,000 signing bonus. . . .
One of the oddities of the free-agent market is that the Denver Broncos apparently are considering signing defensive tackle Tony Williams. Williams, an unrestricted free agent from Cincinnati, suffered a broken ankle on a controversial block by Broncos offensive tackle George Foster during a Monday night game last season. He is one of several defensive tackles on the Broncos' list as they look to add a player on the defensive line. They are among the clubs studying the possibility of signing defensive end Courtney Brown, the former top overall draft choice just released by Cleveland. . . .
Denver re-signed free-agent punter Jason Baker.
It's been only 2 1/2 weeks since the free-agent market opened on March 2, but there probably are few -- if any -- big contracts left to be negotiated. This crop of unrestricted free agents lacked headliners from the beginning, and most of the sought-after players are long gone now.
"I think overall if you look at the actual number of signings, it's not much different than in past years," Atlanta Falcons General Manager Rich McKay said in a conference call with reporters this week. "I just get the feeling that fewer of those starter-quality players hit free agency." . . .
McKay, the co-chairman of the league's competition committee, said that NFL officials will look at the possibility that the lighter, less cumbersome shoes that players are wearing during games to try to maximize their speed might be contributing to the amount of foot and lower-leg injuries they're suffering.
"It is a concern," McKay said, although he added that it's "way premature to say this type of shoe is causing these types of injuries."
McKay said at last month's scouting combine that the league's medical advisors have determined that injuries were up significantly last season, and he and other NFL leaders will monitor the situation closely next season to determine whether or not that's part of a trend and what, if anything, can be done about it.
Eagles Re-Sign Linebacker Adams
The Eagles today re-signed linebacker Keith Adams, an unrestricted free agent, to a one-year contract. Adams took over as a starter at outside linebacker during last season's playoffs because of an ankle injury to Mark Simoneau. The Eagles considered it important to retain him after releasing one outside linebacker, Nate Wayne, and losing another, Ike Reese, to the Falcons in free agency. ... The Falcons signed safety Ronnie Heard, an unrestricted free agent formerly with San Francisco. ... Atlanta is trying to sign Baltimore's free-agent linebacker, Edgerton Hartwell. ...
At least three Canadian Football League teams -- the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Toronto Argonauts and Saskatchewan Roughriders -- reportedly are interested in 42-year-old quarterback Doug Flutie, who was released by San Diego. But the former Boston College star apparently hopes to draw some interest from New England as a prospective backup to Patriots starter Tom Brady. It's unclear whether the Patriots or any other NFL clubs are interested in Flutie, or whether a CFL offer would be enough to keep him from retiring. He played in the CFL between 1990 and '97.