Apparently convinced that Will Peterson would not be able to return from the back problems that plagued him in two of the last three seasons, and which limited him to only two appearances in 2005, the New York Giants on Friday terminated the contract of the standout five-year veteran cornerback.
The Giants also announced that they have signed free agent quarterback Rob Johnson, a nine-year veteran who has not played in the NFL since the 2003 season.
The addition of the much-traveled Johnson, who has played with Jacksonville, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Washington and Oakland, might provide the Giants the experienced and steady backup that the club has been seeking for two years. But the acquisition of Johnson pales in comparison to the significance of the difficult decision Giants officials were forced to make on Peterson, who before his back injuries clearly was emerging as one of the NFL's top young cornerbacks.
"This is a very disappointing development for our ball club," general manager Ernie Accorsi said in a statement on the team's Web site. "Will Peterson was a rising young cornerback and just ran into very tough luck last year with the back injury. We wanted to wait as long as we possibly could on his recovery. We just had him in for a battery of tests and reached the conclusion that we could not wait any longer."
Peterson, 26, had four seasons remaining on his contract, at base salaries of $2 million (for 2006), $2.9 million (2007), $3.4 million (2008) and $3.768 million (2009). His release, though, was not related to finances, but rather the belief that he might not recover from his chronic back problems, and a feeling that it was time to move on. Were he healthy, which he apparently is not, Peterson would certainly draw considerable attention as a free agent.
The release of Peterson means the Giants have lost during this offseason both starting cornerbacks from the past three seasons. Will Allen, the team's first-round choice in the 2001 draft, departed to the Miami Dolphins as an unrestricted free agent this spring. Peterson was the Giants' third-round choice in that same 2001 draft, and the two cornerbacks at one point formed one of the NFL's best young cover tandems.
In anticipation of the departure of Allen, and the possibility Peterson might not play again, the Giants spent much of the offseason retooling the cornerback position. New York signed nine-year veteran Sam Madison, who had played his entire career with the
Miami Dolphins, as an unrestricted free agent and he is projected as a starter. The other likely starter is second-year veteran
Corey Webster, a second-round pick in 2005.
Still, the loss of Peterson is a big one. The former Western Illinois standout was a big, physical corner with good speed and cover skills. In five seasons, Peterson appeared in 51 games, including 39 starts, and had 199 tackles, five interceptions and 35 passes defensed. But in 2003, Peterson missed 11 games with a stress fracture in his lower back. He played all 16 games in 2004 but the back problems flared again last summer, and he played in just two games in 2005, and finished the season on injured reserve.
Johnson has appeared in 48 games, with 29 starts, and has completed 494 of 806 passes for 5,795 yards, with 30 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions. He missed the last two seasons while rehabilitating from arm surgery. Johnson will join Tim Hasselbeck, Jared Lorenzen and Josh Harris in battling for backup spots behind Giants starter Eli Manning.
"Rob hasn't played in a while because he was recovering from 'Tommy John' surgery," Accorsi said. "But he has won in this league, is in great shape, and threw the ball well in his workout."
It was believed that the Giants were waiting for free agent quarterback Jay Fiedler to recover from shoulder surgery to audition him for a possible spot as a backup quarterback. The addition of Johnson may preclude that now. Contract details for the deal Johnson signed in New York were not yet available.