Nicks leaves, with future unknown

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- With a box in his hands, wearing a red and black jumpsuit, Hakeem Nicks walked out of the New York Giants locker room for the final time this season Monday.

It could be the final time he makes that walk in his career.

After five seasons with the Giants, filled with more highs than lows, Nicks is entering free agency and it's not a given he will be back with the team. The receiver has said he wants to return, but it's not known yet if the two sides will be able to come to an agreement.

"Really don't know," Nicks said, of Monday potentially being his last day in the Giants' locker room. "It's some decisions to make in front of me. I'm going to pray about it and I think whatever is going to happen is going to happen the way it's supposed to."

As the Giants try to regroup after missing the playoffs two straight years, Nicks' situation will be one of the biggest storylines for the team. While it once would've seemed foolish to allow Nicks to leave without any compensation, the Giants now may feel it's in their best interest to part ways. They've already devoted significant cash to Victor Cruz, and have a 2012 second-round pick at wide receiver in Rueben Randle.

A 2009 first-round pick, Nicks had a stellar start to his career, catching 24 touchdowns in his first three seasons and dominating during the Giants' Super Bowl run. Since then, though, Nicks has played more like a No. 2 or No. 3 receiver than a dominant outside threat.

Last year, he missed three games due to injury and caught just 53 balls for 692 yards and three touchdowns. This season he missed just one game, but caught 56 passes for 896 yards and zero touchdowns.

"It didn't go the way for me I planned it, but it never kind of goes the way you planned it. Might have injuries or you might have other issues," Nicks said. "I just take everything in stride, learn from it, and I still know what I'm capable of doing. I still consider myself one of the top receivers in this league. I'm going to go out and prove it. Just want to continue to have fun with this game and continue to play it."

Nicks said despite his struggles, he believes other teams will still view him as a top receiver because of his past success.

While Nicks maintained he played this year injury-free and healthy, Giants owner John Mara said Nicks played through injuries all year.

"He competed hard. It's shocking to me he didn't get into the end zone," Mara said. "He was out there trying to make plays."

If Nicks leaves, the Giants will need Randle and Jerrel Jernigan to step up. Randle said Monday he believes he could be the No. 1 outside receiver next year. Jernigan played well at the end of the season in Cruz's absence. Even the owner wondered why Jernigan hadn't seen the field more.

"I'm not sure why it took us three years to find out that Jerrel Jernigan could play," Mara said. "We finally put him in the game and he starts making plays."