Len Pasquarelli

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Sunday, March 24
Updated: March 27, 9:40 AM ET
 
Strahan shows 'me-first' attitude

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

For the annual league meetings in Orlando, Fla., last week, New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi climbed in his car instead of an airplane, and drove the entire 2,500-mile round trip between one city noted for its rat population and the other renowned for serving as home to the world's most celebrated mouse.

His rationale, Accorsi said, was a disdain for the lengthy delays in the security lines at the three major New York-area airports. We're betting there was another reason, too: With a debate raging in The Big Apple over defensive end Michael Strahan's recent rejection of a $17 million signing bonus, and the ramifications it would have on The Big Blue for the 2002 season, Accorsi might simply have preferred the respite afforded by his four-door sanctuary on wheels.

Michael Strahan
The Giants will soon find out if Strahan's verbal battle with Barber will effect the team.
Unfortunately for Accorsi, and the rest of the good folks employed by one of the NFL's classiest organizations, there will be no place to hide come Monday morning.

The beginning of the Giants' official offseason conditioning program basically marks the end of the solace. Given the level of rhetoric and degree of bile already surrounding Strahan, who with some help from Green Bay co-conspirator Brett Favre set a new sack record in 2001, Accorsi and Jim Fassel might do well to keep the motor running and the trunk stocked with snacks.

Consider hitting the road after the first syllable of the initial verbal howitzer, guys, and then performing a Thelma and Louise re-enactment once you happen upon the nearest canyon ledge. Because as bad as it's been, at least since Strahan and his minions unilaterally announced that negotiations with the Giants had ceased, things are only going to exacerbate from here.

Nobody does dastardly dissension better than the New York media -- ironic, given that many reporters there are such homers -- and the city's tabloids doubtless have cleared the back pages for the good, old-fashioned feud brewing between Strahan and those teammates brassy enough to have publicly disparaged him for his selfish bent.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall of the Giants weight room Monday when, say, Tiki Barber and Keith Hamilton decide they want to use the bench press machine at the same time.

Hamilton, who has queued up on the New York defensive line with Strahan for most of the past decade, feels Tiki talked a little too loudly about how Strahan's avarice might scuttle the Giants' season months before it even begins. For his part, Barber has not backed off his stance, only acknowledging that he wished there had been some type of governor between his cranium and his mouth, and that he had kept private his opinions.

But notable is that Barber isn't the only New York veteran who experienced a synaptic seizure upon hearing that Strahan had rejected the Giants offer. Not surprisingly, Hamilton isn't a lone ranger in determining that his linemate deserves a landmark deal, especially coming off such a stellar season. Since we don't roam the sushi bars of New York with Giants veterans, can't do that soul hug with the guys in the New York locker room, it's difficult to analyze the majority sentiment of a team just a little more than one year removed from a Super Bowl appearance.

But you don't have to be a genius to comprehend the potential for divisiveness inherent to this kind of situation. Nor does one have to look much beyond Strahan's locker stall to identify the reason the Giants are mired in inertia this offseason, a team hamstrung by one player's salary cap value of $11 million-plus, a franchise being sacked by the sacker.

When he rebuffed a $17 million signing bonus offered on a seven-year, $58 million contract early this month -- on the lame excuse that a two-tiered structure would guarantee him just $10 million in upfront money this year -- Strahan forced Giants officials to scramble merely to squeeze under the salary cap. Longtime standouts like linebacker Jessie Armstead were released and six players had to restructure their current contracts. New York officials had to track down wideout Amani Toomer in Brazil, for cripe's sakes, to get him to re-do his deal and reduce his cap number.

Now there is no urgency on the Giants part to consummate an agreement with Strahan because the damage is done. To have finished the deal before March 1, when the Giants had to get into compliance with the 2002 spending limit of $71.1 million, would have been significant. Now that the team has jumped through enough hoops to get under the cap, there is no urgency attached to negotiating with Strahan, no need to hustle back to the bargaining table.

There is enough time now to drive back and forth between New York and Orlando a couple of dozen times.

Accorsi stepped out on a pretty shaky limb in the summer of 1999 when he re-signed Strahan to a four-year, $32 million contract that included a $12 million signing bonus. Yeah, the defensive end was coming off consecutive seasons in which he totaled 29 sacks, but Accorsi was panned by his peers for agreeing to a deal that was at least $2 million per year above market value at the time. It should be noted that, in the first two years of the blockbuster contract, Strahan was racked by injuries and combined for only 15 sacks.

This spring, when it came time to take a bullet for the team, Strahan passed. Had he accepted the $17 million signing bonus, and afforded the team enough cap room to at least be somewhat active in meeting some other needs, the act would have been regarded as that of a man concerned with wins and losses and not the size of his personal portfolio. The suggestion that the Giants might have released him before he received the second installment of the signing bonus, with $7 million due next March, was merely a fašade.

The team has always honored the second half of a two-tiered bonus. Even if they decided not to in Strahan's case, what would have been the downside to having played for a ton of money in '02, and then being a free agent next spring? By rejecting the offer, Strahan has become something he has never before been accused of, just another me-first performer.

By turning down the offer, and turning his back on his team, Strahan suddenly looks as bogus as the record-breaking sack Favre handed him.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.








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