Dead Man Walking? Gerris Wilkinson's Last Chance

Max WillensCorrespondent IJuly 24, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - MAY 15:  Gerris Wilkinson #59 looks on during the New York Giants rookie mini camp at the practice field at Giants Stadium on May 15, 2006 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

In about ten days' time, Gerris Wilkinson will begin his fourth and, in all likelihood, final training camp as a New York Giant.

He is currently third on the depth chart behind Michael Boley, an offseason acquisition from the Atlanta Falcons, and Bryan Kehl, a second-year player who enjoyed a very successful rookie season.

For Wilkinson, this state of affairs must be hard to stomach. When the Giants drafted him in the third round of the 2006 draft, Wilkinson wasn't just some anonymous project or enigmatic roll of the dice.

He was the first player drafted to fix the Giants' dreadful linebacking corps, the team's oldest, weakest unit and one of the primary reasons the Giants had lost to the Carolina Panthers in the playoffs a few months earlier.

Wilkinson was meant to be a cornerstone, and initially, he looked the part. He played in every game of the rookie season, displaying the remarkable athleticism and versatility that had made him a star at Georgia Tech.

The following season, free agent signee Kawika Mitchell played well enough to keep Wilkinson stuck on the sidelines, but he made the most of his opportunities. In the pivotal regular season finale against the Patriots, Wilkinson played masterfully in coverage, breaking up a sure touchdown pass intended for Randy Moss, and he notched eight tackles the following week in the divisional playoff win over the Buccaneers.

After the Giants completed their improbable championship run, and Mitchell left for Buffalo in free agency, it looked like Wilkinson would get every chance to prove his worth in 2008.

He was named the team's opening day starter at weak side linebacker, but knee injuries effectively ruined his season: He played in just eight games, and made only 11 tackles.

Under different circumstances, it's likely that Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin would have given Wilkinson more of a chance to regain his starting job this year.

But with his team poised to make another serious run at the Super Bowl, Reese decided he couldn't afford to be patient, and signed Michael Boley in the off-season.

Even though he will miss out training camp as well as the first week of the season, the economics of the situation dictate that Boley (making $2.5 million this season) is now the starter.

And though neither Coughlin nor Reese would admit to such a thing, it seems obvious that Wilkinson no longer figures into the team's long-term plans.

The Giants' official team website recently did a miniature profile on Bryan Kehl, and none of their training camp previews have mentioned any competition for the weak side position.

Wilkinson is sure to catch on somewhere else next year. At 26, he is entering his athletic prime, and teams are always on the lookout for inexpensive young talent.

But it must be strange for him to think that one magical season will may have cost him the opportunity to experience another one.