Pierce says he's been released

The New York Giants have released middle linebacker Antonio Pierce after five seasons.

"I was shocked at first, but I'm not the one up there up in the office, and they said they felt they needed to go in another direction," Pierce told ESPN's Rachel Nichols on Thursday. "They said it wasn't my health, or the way I played, but just that -- that they were going in another direction. We left everything smooth and peaceful and I'm happy about that. I felt like I said everything I needed to say to them. I've loved my time in New York and won't have anything but good feelings about being with this team."

Pierce said the reason he was in the New York area was to have a doctor look at the herniated disk in his neck that caused him to miss the final seven games of last season. He said the MRI was "very positive."

"I can't say I'm 100 percent yet, but with the season still six months away, I'm right where I need to be and I'm going to be fine," he said.

Pierce had one season left on the contract he signed as a free agent in 2005.

When asked if he had an idea of where he might play next or if he has been contacted by other teams, Pierce said, "I have no wish list. If I had a preference, it would be to stay in the NFC East, since I know the division so well. But I just want to go somewhere I can help a good team."

Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan and defensive line coach Mike Waufle were fired after the season and Pierce, who signed a $26 million contract as a free agent in 2005, was let go a month later.

Pierce also had one major off-the-field problem with the Giants. He drove a wounded Plaxico Burress to the hospital in November 2008 after the star receiver shot himself in a New York City nightclub and then took Burress' unlicensed gun back to New Jersey.

A grand jury opted not to indict him this past summer, but the incident, which led to Burress being sent to prison, was a burden for Pierce and the team for almost a year, even though Giants president John Mara openly defended Pierce.

For most of his time, Pierce was an outstanding football player for the Giants. He led the team in tackles three times, was a three-year captain, a Pro Bowler in 2006 and one of the inspirational leaders of the squad that did not have a losing season in his five years.

"When we brought him in here we were interested in A.P. for all of the dimensions he brought to the table: his leadership qualities, his natural charismatic ability to rally the troops. He loved football, he's a very smart football player. He took great pride in studying the tape and knowing what everybody did on defense," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said, adding Pierce "has worn that Giant uniform very, very proudly."

Pierce talked to Coughlin on Wednesday and met with general manager Jerry Reese on Thursday, when he was told that he was being let go.

Second-year pro Jonathan Goff started at middle linebacker after Pierce was hurt, although Chase Blackburn has also played the position for New York.

Pierce finished his final season with the Giants with 51 tackles (31 solo), three tackles for losses, a sack, two passes defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. His five-year totals with the Giants were 537 tackles (322 solo), seven sacks, six forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and four interceptions. Pierce also had 44 postseason tackles (28 solo).

An undrafted free agent, Pierce played his first four seasons with the Washington Redskins.

"I have nothing but very strong love for the New York Giants," Pierce said. "Obviously, I wanted to end it when my contract ended, but it didn't. It ended a year early. But I have no regrets. I have nothing to look back on and wish I had done it differently. Now it's time to look forward at the possibilities that I have."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.