Osi Umenyiora put aside his issues with his contract during the New York Giants' Super Bowl run, which was no surprise. He was having a wonderful time with his teammates, reaping the rare joy that comes when your once-in-a-lifetime experience repeats itself within the space of a half-decade. That wasn't the time to talk contract, and to his credit Umenyiora did not.
But the time to talk contract is once again nearly afoot. And with free agency, the draft, offseason minicamps and OTAs and eventually training camp looming, Umenyiora's contract will once again become an issue for the Giants. This time, he's heading into the final year of his deal, scheduled to make a little less than $4 million in salary in 2012. A year ago, with two seasons left on the deal, Umenyiora made it clear that he was unhappy and wanted either a new deal or a trade to a team that might give him one.
What are we to believe has changed in Umenyiora's mind since then? If anything, he could be more resolute about his demands and a possible holdout this summer. Holding out with two years left on your deal is crazy. Holding out with one year left is a far more accepted practice, less likely to be looked upon by potential future employers as turnoff-caliber selfishness. And if he gets permission to seek a trade this year, as he did last year, he may be more likely to find teams willing to acquire him. Or he might find that the Giants have lowered their asking price, making a trade more feasible.
Regardless, Umenyiora has many more reasons for making an offseason stink this year than he did last year, and he wasn't shy about making one last year. I believe the Giants should trade him before said stink gets out of hand.
For the record, I do not think Umenyiora is overrated, and I do think he's underpaid. If the Giants do decide to trade him, they will not replace him with anyone who's as good as he is, and he's very likely to play star-quality defensive end for whichever team acquires him. This would not be a Donovan McNabb deal, where the current team has decided it's already seen the best of the player and doesn't mind giving him up for fear that he'll play well and haunt them. Umenyiora is 30 years old and still playing at a very high level.
But that's why the Giants should trade him this offseason -- because his value is high. Sure, he missed seven games due to injury this season, and that hurts the value. But two sacks in the division-clinching regular-season finale and 3.5 more in the postseason reminded everyone who was watching that Umenyiora is a unique talent -- a pass-rusher who can do things others cannot. Edge rushers have huge value right now, and there's no shortage of teams that could benefit from adding Umenyiora. Trading him now, off of his huge postseason performance, would be the definition of selling high.
And the Giants should do it. They have salary cap issues for the second year in a row. They have a surplus of pass-rushers, with Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka, who could move back to defensive end full-time if Umenyiora were to leave and they found a linebacker or two. Heck, they could draft another undervalued pass-rusher and develop him, since they seem to be so good at that. The Giants would feel the loss of Umenyiora, but they could absorb it and still bring back the core of the defensive front that just won them the Super Bowl.
The Giants likely don't want to give Umenyiora the contract he wants -- one that would rank him among the highest-paid pass-rushers in the game. He does come with the injury risk, and he'd be 31 in the first year of that new contract. They'd prefer that be some other team's problem, and they'd be wise to make it so now, when they can still get a nice draft pick or two for him.
Finally, this isn't about eliminating potential distractions. The Giants' internal locker-room leadership structure is strong enough that a cranky Umenyiora wouldn't affect the performance of any other player or the team as a whole. They proved that last season. The reasons to trade Umenyiora this offseason are simple: He's at peak value and they can afford to lose him. That's a confluence of circumstances that doesn't come around too often. As a pure business decision, trading Umenyiora this summer is the right thing for the Giants to do.