EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In the spring of 2010, safety Antrel Rolle signed a five-year, $37.1 million free-agent contract with the New York Giants. This is the NFL, where contracts are by definition not guaranteed and very few players see the end of theirs.
Rolle is an exception. With two games left in his fifth Giants season, he has played every single game of the contract and made every single dollar it promised. He has not taken a pay cut, nor has that been asked of him. This is a significant point of pride for Rolle. The rarity of a player in the modern NFL completing a multiyear free-agent contract without alteration is not lost on the 32-year-old safety.
"You've got to work your ass off to do that," Rolle said Wednesday.
Rolle was in an introspective mood following Wednesday's practice and he held forth on his own situation. He said he'd like to play three more years, no more and no less, and that his strong preference is to return to the Giants.
"This is a great fit," said Rolle, who's won a Super Bowl title and been elected a team captain during his time with the Giants. "I would love to finish my career here. I want to be with JPP [Jason Pierre-Paul] and [Odell] Beckham, and I can't wait to see [Victor] Cruz come back. These are my brothers. This is where I want to be."
But as someone who's been through free agency before, Rolle knows he can't be sure he'll get that wish. He insists he's focused on the Giants' final two games of this season and playing as hard and as well as he can in them. Obviously, since he's come this far into the contract without missing a game, it's extremely important to him to play these last two.
"It's about accountability. That's what counts in this league," Rolle said. "When your coaches can look you in the eye and know you're going to be there, no matter what? That's what matters."
So what comes after the season must wait until after the season. And while Rolle said he has no trouble tuning out the future when he's practicing and playing, he admits that his mind does wander and he thinks about it during his downtime.
"At certain times, it does get hard, and you find yourself drifting off and wondering," Rolle said. "It's a mind-boggling situation for anyone to go through on this level. But that's where it comes down to how strong you are mentally to be able to fight through that."
Rolle concedes that he's not having as strong a season as he had last year, when he went to the Pro Bowl. But he believes his past performance as well as his experience and leadership will speak well for him come free agency, whether he's talking to the Giants or other teams.
"I love it when you doubt me," Rolle said. "Because the second you doubt me, I'm going to go out there and kill you the next time around."
Rolle turned 32 on Tuesday, and NFL free agency hasn't been kind lately to players in their 30s. But Rolle scoffs at that as well, pointing to that number "16" under "games played" on his player profile page every year.
"The way I look at it, performance is everything," Rolle said. "You can put me up against any other 32-year-old. Age is just never going to be a factor for me. My body feels good, I feel young, I'm ready to rock and roll."
His hope is for a strong finish to the season -- one he'd like to include an interception returned for a touchdown -- and for the Giants to reward his five years of reliable service with a generous three-year offer that will take him to the end of his career. If that doesn't happen, he believes he'll find it elsewhere. And regardless, he'll look back on his time with the Giants with great satisfaction.
"I've definitely been blessed in that sense," Rolle said. "They had tremendous expectations for me and I've done a great job of fulfilling those expectations. Playing out the whole deal, that speaks a lot about myself, and it speaks a lot about this organization and how they feel about me. I've worn a lot of hats here, and I've worn them to the best of my ability. My performance here speaks for itself."