Now 31 years old, the soon-to-be free agent will likely be forced to look at teams other than the cap-strapped Giants to continue his NFL career.
According to Jenny Vrentas of the The Star-Ledger, Umenyiora's contract for the 2013 season was automatically voided Thursday. Because he wasn't technically "cut" by the Giants, however, Umenyiora will have to wait until March 12—or the start of free agency—to begin looking for a new team.
While Umenyiora remains open to returning to New York next season, the option comes with a catch: On top of financial security, he wants to be ensured a starting spot.
Umenyiora said this about a return, via Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News:
Well, I feel like I’m a Pro Bowl player and I feel like I’m a starter in this league, (but) obviously that might be difficult to do in New York. But the door’s still open there. It’s something I would really relish that opportunity to finish my career there. And hopefully something will come out of that.
Making such dreams a reality with the Giants appears difficult.
New York has better players in Jason Pierre-Paul (15 starts, 6.5 sacks in 2012) and Justin Tuck (14, 4.0) at defensive end, and both are under contract for the 2013 season. The Giants are also dumping contracts to get under the 2013 cap, so taking back Umenyiora at even a reasonable price for a second-tier defensive end would seem unlikely. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw, linebacker Michael Boley and defensive tackle Chris Canty were each cut this week.
Chances are that Umenyiora, a former second-round pick with 75.0 career sacks and 32 forced fumbles, will have to look elsewhere for employment this spring.
Below, we run down what that reality means for both Umenyiora and the Giants.
While he may not be the same destructive force at defensive end he used to be, Umenyiora will still have value as an unrestricted free agent. More than likely, Umenyiora will attempt to turn that value into a multi-year deal this spring.
A number of teams make sense in fit and schematics:
- Atlanta Falcons: Umenyiora lives in Atlanta, according to the New York Post, and the Falcons could probably use another player who can get after the quarterback. The defensive ends plugged in opposite John Abraham contributed just four sacks last season.
- New England Patriots: Rarely shy in nabbing a veteran, New England could bring in Umenyiora to play defensive end when it goes to four-man fronts. Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Umenyiora could make a solid trio.
- New York Jets: If Umenyiora is willing to make a switch to the 3-4, the pass rush-starved Jets could be a landing spot. New York was 25th in sacks last season and will likely turn over several players from its front seven.
- Detroit Lions: Detroit has already cut loose veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch, and free agency looms for both Cliff Avril and Lawrence Jackson. If the Lions lose either, Umenyiora could be called on to ensure defensive end isn't a big need for the Lions in the draft.
- Dallas Cowboys: The switch to the 4-3 makes Dallas an option. But what could trigger some mutual interest is the potential loss of Anthony Spencer, who might have played himself into a free-agent deal that the Cowboys can't match this spring.
Umenyiora might not be capable of any more 10-sack seasons, but he can still be an effective edge rusher. According to Pro Football Focus, Umenyiora was second on the Giants with 45 quarterback disruptions in 2012, despite playing the fourth-most snaps among the defensive linemen.
He's also averaged almost nine sacks a season since 2010, plus 14 forced fumbles.
There's certainly a future for a player who can get to the quarterback, even if he's 31 and headed toward the twilight of his career.
What Does Moving on Mean for the Giants?
The Giants may have no other option than to move on with Pierre-Paul and Tuck at defensive end in 2013.
While Umenyiora has been a vital part of the pressure package on defense—an aspect of the Giants that has been among the best in the NFL for several years—the money just doesn't line up.
To ensure that defensive end remains a strength, general manager Jerry Reese might have to look toward April's NFL draft to find Umenyiora's replacement.
Several defensive ends should be available for New York at No. 19 overall, including BYU's Ezekiel Ansah, UCLA's Datone Jones, Texas' Alex Okafor, Oregon's Dion Jordan and LSU's Sam Montgomery.
The 270-pound Ansah has been compared favorably with Pierre-Paul, and Jones is the kind of versatile inside-out lineman that the Giants like to utilize. Both appear to be strong fits for New York.
Okafor and Montgomery are other options, while Jordan might be better suited for a 3-4 defense.
However, there's no question that the Giants need more out of Pierre-Paul and Tuck next season.
The two combined for just 10.5 sacks in 2012 after tallying 21.5 a season earlier. Tuck has appeared to be in steady decline rushing the passer since 2010, the last season in which he registered 10 or more sacks. Since then, Tuck has just nine in two seasons and 27 games.
While teams honed in more on Pierre-Paul in 2012, he still led the team with 55 total quarterback disruptions.
Without Umenyiora in the fold for the first time in a decade, the Giants are going to need bounce-back years from both Pierre-Paul and Tuck. Reese might even have to pull the trigger early on a first-round defensive end to help stymie the loss.