The overhaul of the ailing Giants defense took a big step forward on Thursday when the team cut their ties to middle linebacker Antonio Pierce. Pierce, captain of the defense and a key player on the Super Bowl champions, spoke with Mike Garofalo of the Newark Star-Ledgerafter the news came down.
"If there’s anything anybody wants to know about me, it’s that I know for a fact I left a stamp on this organization, this city, my teammates," Pierce said. "I know I made guys better, I know they learned from me. I know I taught them lessons and I learned lessons from them. It was perfect. It maybe didn’t end the way I wanted it to end. If anything’s disappointing, it’s that. Am I angry? I’m not angry. I’m very positive about everything. I feel that my career is far from short and over. I just have to do it elsewhere."
Classy words from a guy who gave the Giants a lot after they signed him as a free agent in 2005. The loss of his leadership after a neck injury was cited as a reason for the team's slide in 2009, although that seems a bit too simplistic a notion for a team as laden with veterans as the Giants. This move would have been just as understandable if the Giants weren't blown out on several occasions, because Pierce was due to make $4.75 million next season and he'd clearly lost a step even before he was hurt.
Too often teams feel a debt of gratitude to players like Pierce and allow them to linger past their expiration date because of past glories. Acting quickly to drop him from the roster makes it clear that the Giants know that their defense has serious problems and that there's no point in continuing to act like the team that beat the Patriots is still the one wearing the uniforms at present. For a team that seemed blind all season to their problems, that isn't an insignificant step.
Nor is replacing Pierce. The question now becomes whether or not Jerry Reese is going to be able to do that without losing ground in the race for the playoffs. Last season's signings of Rocky Bernard and Chris Canty create serious doubts about the front office's talent evaluation abilities, and with so much work to be done the team can't afford to whiff again this time around.