What should we make of the comment by Osi Umenyiora Thursday that "there's a chance" he could return to the New York Giants next season?
First, here is a snippet of what Umenyiora told reporters Thursday in New Orleans:
"There's a chance, absolutely. Of course (there) is. Hopefully that'll happen. I prefer to finish out my career there. But there's a lot of things in play here. It's not going to be totally my decision. They're going to have some decisions to make also. It's going to be a collective effort. My agent's going to have his say. Hopefully things will work out there. I prefer to stay there."
That is a far cry from what Umenyiora, whose 10 seasons in New York have sometimes been contentious, said at the end of the season. At that time he said he thought it was "probably time to move on."
What should we believe here? Is there really a chance that Umenyiora could return to the Giants for the 2013 season?
I have no inside information on Umenyiora's real intentions, or those of the Giants at this point. I can, however, tell you what I think.
I think Umenyiora is a player with regrets over how he handled his contract situation over the years who is now facing some uncertainty and realizing jut how good of a gig he has had with the Giants since 2003.
I think Umenyiora is a smart guy -- smart enough to realize he should not completely burn the bridge back to the Giants before free agency and before the door, which co-owner John Mara has left open -- closes completely.
I think it remains EXTREMELY unlikely that Umenyiora is a Giant in 2013.
He is a proud player, a free agent who still believes he is among the best defensive ends in the game and wants to be paid accordingly.
What he doesn't want is to be what the Giants would likely require from him -- to be more and more of a situational pass rusher, a third wheel behind Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and maybe even Mathias Kiwanuka or another young player.
Here is more of what Umenyiora said at the end of the season:
"I've earned the right to be a free agent. It's been 10 years. I signed a seven-year deal, and they made me play out all seven of those years. If they wanted me back, I think something would have been done before now. ... there's no football person who's going to actually sit there and watch tape and not think that I'm a starter in this league, and I'm 100 percent sure of that."
Umenyiora is not going to get the paycheck or the playing time he desires with the Giants. Pierre-Paul, Tuck, Kiwanuka, maybe even Adrian Tracy -- and the Giants' salary cap situation -- all stand in the way of that.
He is speaking smartly by keeping the option of returning to the Giants on the table. You never know -- he might hit the open market and find that no one out there is willing to pay him the big money he thinks he deserves, in which case a return to the Giants might seem more appealing.
I believe, though, that the odds of Umenyiora returning to the Giants are extremely slim. The ship may not have completely sailed, but it does seem to have left the harbor.