Osi Umenyiora raised the Giants to new heights in the playoffs.
On Monday, he rejoined the team for OTAs (via Michael Eisen of Giants.com), instantly increasing the Giants' chances of repeating their triumphant Super Bowl run from last season and making a Big Blue dynasty a distinct possibility.
After thwarting the New England Patriots' attempt at a 19-0 season in Super Bowl XLII, the Giants appeared headed for dynastic distinction. Then, on Nov. 28, 2008, Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg, and their golden team turned to lead.
Since then, receivers like Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz have blossomed under Eli Manning, revitalizing the offense that looked lost without Burress. Last season, Eli proved his elite status by throwing for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns.
After finishing 2011 with a 9-7 record and squeaking into the playoffs, the Giants made another incredible playoff run and again defeated the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Both titles were achieved in the same way, with the same formula: Pressure the quarterback with the defensive line. And Osi Umenyiora is a central element in that equation for success.
Back in April, I wrote that ensuring Osi would be back in 2012 was the Giants' top priority this offseason. It might not have seemed like it, with free-agency departures at running back, wide receiver and cornerback, but Umenyiora is a player that would be sorely missed if he was gone.
Former GM Ernie Accorsi knew that you can never have too many pass rushers. Lawrence Taylor transformed the league by getting after the quarterback. But on the obverse side of Accorsi's maxim is the truth that good pass rushers are hard to find. That's why Umenyiora would be very difficult to replace.
Despite the spectacular emergence of Jason "You Down with JPP?" Pierre-Paul last season, Osi remained an integral part of the team's success. The key to the Giants' formidable defensive line is the depth, which wears opposing offensive lines down and keeps their front four fresh.
Umenyiora contributed nine sacks in nine regular-season games after coming back from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, and he filled in while Justin Tuck battled numerous injuries.
More importantly, he added 3.5 more sacks in the playoffs, including a signature strip-sack on Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers as he was about to launch a touchdown pass to Greg Jennings. Tom Silverstein of Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel was among those who lamented what could have been.
Critics allege that Umenyiora is just a speed rusher who struggles against the run, and that he's a crybaby who doesn't think $4 million is enough money to play a game.
But Umenyiora is a textbook case of why a young football player should not sign a seven-year contract. He outperformed the deal, and without guaranteed money, he's risking a valuable asset every game that he plays under that below-market contract.
He felt so sincerely that promises of a new contract had been broken by GM Jerry Reese that he submitted a sworn affidavit as part of the players' antitrust lawsuit against the NFL (via ESPN's Adam Schefter).
Umenyiora seems to have signed the restructured deal for 2012 just to end the frustration and get back on the field. As this list from Spotrac.com shows, defensive end is a highly paid position. The $6 million Osi will get for 2012 isn't exactly a king's ransom, but it's enough to prevent a holdout.
And while he's not under contract past the end of this season, at least the issue has been put to rest for another year.
At least now, Osi gets the bump he deserves and returns to help with the Giants' title defense. With him back on the defensive line alongside JPP and Tuck, the Giants could very well have a dynasty in the making.