Life with the Washington Redskins, Antonio Pierce says, prepared him nicely for life after the Washington Redskins.
Pierce spent his first four NFL seasons with the Redskins and, with the organization constantly in flux, played for three coaches and four defensive coordinators. So when the middle linebacker was an unrestricted free agent this past offseason and the Redskins weren't offering him the sort of contract he felt he deserved, there was no fear of the unknown to keep him from leaving. Even Coach Tom Coughlin's reputation for rigidity wasn't enough to keep him from signing with the New York Giants, and Pierce says he hasn't had any problems coexisting with Coughlin.
"I think the one thing Washington gave me," Pierce said at the Giants' training camp here, "was a mixture of everything. . . . I'm used to change and being able to adapt. In the NFL, it's all about working. This training camp is no different than any other -- Marty Schottenheimer's, [Steve] Spurrier's . . . no, Spurrier's was different. That was like nobody else's. But besides that, it's training camp. It's no different. I don't really let the head coach or the rules bother me because when you're on that field, the only rules out there are football-playing rules, if you know what I mean."
Pierce was one of three expensive free agents the Giants signed in the offseason, along with wide receiver Plaxico Burress and right tackle Kareem McKenzie. While Burress and McKenzie were added to the offense to attempt to make life easier for second-year quarterback Eli Manning, Pierce was signed to a six-year, $26 million contract in a bid to upgrade a defense that ranked 28th among the 32 NFL teams against the run last season.
"That's where we need to start out," Coughlin said. "We have to do a much better job stopping the run."
When Giants officials watched game tapes of Pierce from last season, they saw a fiery player who made tackles all over the field and was an anchor on a defense that ranked second in the league against the rush and third overall. It was the NFL coming-out party for Pierce, who first made the Redskins' roster in 2001 as an undrafted rookie from Arizona. Schottenheimer, then the Redskins' coach, regularly raved about Pierce's ability, even as a rookie, to pick up on what coaches wanted.
But Pierce, 26, might have been on his way to being a career-long backup and role player if veteran Mike Barrow's knee problems hadn't created an opening at middle linebacker last season after the Redskins' decision to release Jeremiah Trotter.
"Last year, I prepared to be a starter, even not knowing what the situation would be," Pierce said. "I was like, 'This is my make-or-break year.' I'm going to be in the league and just be a one-year guy, [playing] special teams my whole career, or I'm going to take the opportunity and make the most of it. I remember when they told me I was going to be the middle linebacker, I told them, 'I'm not coming out.' They were like, 'Well, we hope so,' and it just went from there."
Pierce's negotiations with the Redskins on a contract extension didn't go as smoothly. The talks took place, off and on, between November and early March, Pierce said. He said he gave the Redskins a chance to match the Giants' offer, which included a $6.5 million signing bonus, and they declined.
"I thought it would get done, but it didn't," Pierce said. "I just wanted to get my value. The offer the Giants made, that was more than I ever thought I would get. At the time, I was happy just to be appreciated. I never felt like I got that offer [from the Redskins] to feel like I was appreciated. . . . If you feel that way about somebody, if you say you feel that way, then just handle it. Don't try to find a little crack and crease and get the guy as cheap as you can, when you go out and spend millions of bucks on everybody else. Take care of home."
Still, Pierce said he left without bitterness toward the Redskins and even kept his house in the Washington area.
"There's no hard feelings, no grudges," he said. "I had to make the decision that was best for me and my family. Being a [rookie] free agent, I didn't have a payday coming out. This was my payday. This was my chance for me to set up myself and make a name for myself in the NFL. . . . I like that area. I respect the players there. I know what they've been through. I know what LaVar [Arrington] has been through, Chris Samuels and guys like that. I know what the young guys are going through. I wish them the best."
Pierce picked the Giants after getting positive feedback from Barrow and fellow veteran linebacker Jessie Armstead, teammates in Washington who had played for the Giants.
"In Washington, I don't want to wish them bad, but you never knew what you were going to get into," Pierce said. "It's sad to say that. We had a lot of great coaches. But here, you know that Coughlin is going to be here. They're committed to Coughlin. They're committed to [defensive coordinator] Tim Lewis. I respect that a lot about this organization."