Jessie Armstead wasn't coming. The Giants would open training
camp in two days, but Armstead, having already missed the
off-season workout program and the June minicamp in protest over
New York's refusal to renegotiate his contract, had decided to
hold out. So on July 24 Armstead, the Giants' Pro Bowl
linebacker, sat in the living room of his Dallas home, stunned at
his own decision.
That afternoon the phone rang. It was coach Jim Fassel, calling
with a simple message but one that made "a huge difference,"
Armstead says. Fassel told Armstead that as much as he wanted him
in camp, he should take as much time as he needed before deciding
anything. That was it. No tongue-lashings. No threats. "Suddenly,
I saw how bad the situation had gotten," Armstead says. "I felt
terrible staying away from the workouts, being away from the
guys, especially after a lot of them called with their support.
The team had the upper hand because they knew I wanted to play,
but Coach Fassel gave me room, showed me respect. I just decided
to report, new contract or no."
Even as New York avoided a protracted stalemate with the soul of
its defense, the episode provided a window into the Giants'
psyche as defending NFC champions. To be sure, this is a very
mature team, light years removed from the internecine squabbles
of 1998 that tore apart a club that had won the NFC East title
the year before. Armstead's teammates clearly supported him, and
both he and the New York brass were careful not to let the
dispute devolve into a war of words. By not alienating their
ninth-year star, the Giants snuffed out a fire that could have
severely damaged their hopes of returning to the Super Bowl.
Indeed, New York's off-season had been rather placid, other than
wide receiver Ike Hilliard's spat with Fassel over mid-June toe
surgery that will keep Hilliard, like tailback Tiki Barber,
sidelined for the preseason. (Fassel and Hilliard smoothed things
over before camp.) The Giants significantly improved their
defense through free agency and the draft, re-signed Barber and
cornerback Jason Sehorn and generally acted like confident
conference champs. "Guys like Michael Strahan and Jessie Armstead
and Keith Hamilton came together and stayed together," says
Fassel. "Jessie made a business decision, and his teammates
understood that. He's one of my favorite guys. It's over."
The incident did, however, reveal the dangerous by-product of an
overachieving team's Super Bowl run. As New York broke the bank
for Barber (six years, $25.2 million), Amani Toomer ($7 million
bonus for restructuring his deal) and Sehorn (six years, $36
million), Armstead felt he had been forgotten--"This is about
respect," he said in late July, to the amusement of the New York
tabloids--and wanted his cut of the championship loot.
Armstead had gone public in the weeks before camp with his desire
for a revision of his deal, which has five years remaining at
$24.6 million. Alter the deal to, say, three years and $18
million--guaranteed--and he would be happy. The Giants balked,
pointing out that they had already renegotiated Armstead's
contract several times, most recently in 1999. That negotiations
never got off the ground this time around still bothers him. "At
one point I was, like, What do I have to do to make my point,
retire?" he says. "I've been through hell here. I was scraping
the barrel when we were 5-11, 6-10. They shouldn't forget who was
doing that scraping. I've been a model citizen. I've been to four
straight Pro Bowls. I think I deserve to know what the future
Says a sympathetic Toomer, "As happy as I was about my deal, it
makes me feel bad for someone like Jessie, who's been here for so
long without complaining. I think both sides handled it well.
Knowing Jessie, it would never have been a distraction."
That much is clear. Armstead reported in fine shape and will
spearhead a defense that was the NFL's second-best against the
run in 2000 and has been enhanced by the addition of free-agent
end Kenny Holmes. After blossoming opposite Jevon Kearse in
Tennessee last year, Holmes will provide rush support to Strahan
and the emerging Cornelius Griffin. New York upgraded its
secondary as well, using its top two picks on promising
cornerbacks Will Allen of Syracuse and William Peterson of
Even Fassel concedes that the Giants were a bit lucky last year,
given that their starters lost a combined total of just nine
games to injury; a pieced-together offensive line was superb; and
Kerry Collins emerged as a franchise quarterback. "If people want
to call it luck, then fine," says Armstead. "They can come to the
Meadowlands and try to take our crown. I plan on having my best
year yet, so it won't be pretty."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO Armstead ended his holdout, even though he hadn't wrapped up the restructured contract he wanted.
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN HOLMES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Giants
"The Giants became a much better team after signing Kenny Holmes.
He had a breakthrough year with the Titans, and now he makes New
York a lot like his old team, one with two potentially dominant
pass rushers in him and Michael Strahan.... The secondary was
already impressive. Re-signing Jason Sehorn was smart. The two
rookie corners are both players. Keep an eye on William Peterson.
He's a diamond in the rough, and a guy who can play corner and
safety.... Kerry Collins should be fine after the Super Bowl
nightmare--a lot of quarterbacks had their worst game against the
Ravens--but this year is still a bit make-or-break for him. He's
always had the skills but only average intelligence. Which guy
will he be this year?... Ron Dayne, who looks a lot lighter in
camp, must step up this year, because Tiki Barber will be a
marked man, and he'll be knocked around more. Everyone who
expected Dayne to be a smashmouth guy must have never seen him
play in college. At Wisconsin he was a patient, nimble back with
good vision who waited for holes to develop. He's not a downhill
guy. Plus, he needs a lot of carries to get going, and those
aren't coming. It looks as if the Giants are like most teams who
considered drafting him--they don't know quite what to do with
him.... This wasn't the best team in the NFC last year, just the
one that peaked at the right time. New York won't come close this
time around, even if Jim Fassel makes more predictions."
Sept. 10 at Denver (Mon.)
16 GREEN BAY
23 at Kansas City
30 NEW ORLEANS
Oct. 7 WASHINGTON
14 at St. Louis
22 PHILADELPHIA (Mon.)
28 at Washington
Nov. 4 DALLAS
11 at Arizona
19 at Minnesota (Mon.)
Dec. 2 Open date
9 at Dallas
15 ARIZONA (Sat.)
30 at Philadelphia
2001 SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL rank: 10 (tie)
Opponents' 2000 winning percentage: .508
Games against playoff teams: 7
with 2000 statistics
COACH: Jim Fassel; fifth season with New York (37-26-1 in NFL)
2000 RECORD: 12-4 (first in NFC East)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 11/13/13; defense 2/16/5
OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*
QB Kerry Collins 46 529 att. 311 comp. 58.8% 3,610 yds.
22 TDs 13 int. 83.1 rtg.
RB Tiki Barber 29 213 att. 1,006 yds. 4.7 avg. 70 rec.
719 yds. 10.3 avg. 9 TDs
RB Ron Dayne 181 228 att. 770 yds. 3.4 avg. 3 rec.
11 yds. 3.7 avg. 5 TDs
FB Greg Comella 289 10 att. 45 yds. 4.5 avg. 36 rec.
275 yds. 7.9 avg. 0 TDs
RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
WR Amani Toomer 67 78 rec. 1,094 yds. 7 TDs
WR Ike Hilliard 104 55 rec. 787 yds. 8 TDs
WR Joe Jurevicius 265 24 rec. 272 yds. 1 TD
TE Howard Cross 340 4 rec. 30 yds. 0 TDs
K Jaret Holmes 268 3/3 XPs 2/2 FGs 9 pts.
PR Tiki Barber 29 39 ret. 8.5 avg. 0 TDs
KR Ron Dixon 254 31 ret. 21.2 avg. 0 TDs
LT Lomas Brown 6'4" 280 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Glenn Parker 6'5" 312 lbs. 13 games 13 starts
C Dusty Zeigler 6'5" 303 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Ron Stone 6'5" 320 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
RT Luke Petitgout 6'6" 310 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Michael Strahan 66 tackles 9 1/2 sacks
LT Cornelius Griffin 23 tackles 5 sacks
RT Keith Hamilton 57 tackles 10 sacks
RE Kenny Holmes[N] 36 tackles 8 sacks
OLB Brandon Short 5 tackles 0 sacks
MLB Mike Barrow 92 tackles 3 1/2 sacks
OLB Jessie Armstead 102 tackles 5 sacks
CB Will Allen (R)[N] 41 tackles 2 int.
SS Sam Garnes 64 tackles 1 int.
FS Shaun Williams 85 tackles 3 int.
CB Jason Sehorn 72 tackles 2 int.
P Rodney Williams[N] 42 punts 44.4 avg.
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 119)
2001 NFL Europe statistics
"Collins has the skills but only average intelligence. Which guy
will he be this year?"