Ron Dayne tragi-comedy...

he Giants moved closer to ending the Ron Dayne tragi-comedy when they signed veteran running back Dorsey Levens (most recently of Philadelphia) to a three-year contract

The Giants moved closer to ending the Ron Dayne tragi-comedy when they signed veteran running back Dorsey Levens (most recently of Philadelphia) to a three-year contract, structured to pay him the veteran minimum salary for each of the three years plus incentives that will probably push the total contract value to something more than $2.1 million overall.

Levens is a 6-1, 230-pound, 33 year old who will be starting his ninth season. He previously achieved NFL stardom with Green Bay and played only the 2002 season with the Eagles in a much diminished capacity compared to what he had become accustomed to seeing.

Ironically, Levens and Mitchell were the two backups (with rookie Bryant Westbrook) to Eagles starting running back Duce Staley last season.

The signing should create a showdown between the Giants and Dayne, their first-round pick in 2000 after a Heisman Trophy-winning season at Wisconsin. In fact, Dayne is still the NCAA's all-time leading Division I yardage gainer, and at 5-10 and 250 pounds (he was listed at 263 as a rookie) the Giants expected him to take the "Mister Inside" role and team with Tiki Barber, the "Mister Outside" part of the plan. But Dayne was a major disappointment, and in his three seasons failed to become a factor in the offense.

"He wasn't totally to blame," says general manager Ernie Accorsi. "He is the kind of back who needs 20 or 25 carries a game to get into the right rhythm, but you wouldn't expect Jim (Fassel, the head coach), to pull Tiki just so Ron can get the carries. Tiki is clearly our most important offensive player."

Indeed. Barber gained 1,387 yards last season, averaging 4.6 yards per carry with a long of 70. He also caught 69 passes for 597 yards. Dayne gained 428 yards in 125 carries, caught 11 passes for 49 yards and continued to fail on short-yardage opportunities, earning the not-so-nice nickname of "No Gain" Dayne too often for the coaches to swallow.

But he's still with the team, at least technically and officially. He hasn't helped his cause, either, refusing to take part in the off-season conditioning program (one of those optional/mandatory coaches' creations) after telling Fassel he would.

Fassel was furious when he found out Dayne had decided to winter in Arizona and work with a private trainer. "When a player tells me he'll be here," he fumed, "I believe him. This isn't a thing for agents to work with (Terry Lavenstein represents Dayne). This is between the coach and the player."

Dayne also issued a demand to be traded, but frankly, his value on the open market is worth just about what you might pay for Lucent stocks these days. Just like Tyrone Wheatley, another first round pick by the Giants (1995) who failed miserably, Dayne would fetch no more than s sixt-h or seventh-round pick. Wheatley was traded for a seventh selection to Miami, which cut him a month later. But he found a new path when he reached Oakland and has been serviceable, if unspectacular, for the Raiders.

Will Dayne be with the team when the season starts? Probably not likely, although Fassel and Accorsi have indicated that they do not plan to re-sign reserve back Damon Washington and might consider the trio of Barber, Levens and Dayne their new group. Dayne is a "bargain" for a running back, since his salary is still being worked from his rookie contract and is less than $700,000 a season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's going to be nice to see (Bill) Parcells back in the stadium when the Cowboys come to play the second game of the season. It's a Monday night game. He never did all that well on Monday nights with the Giants ... or the Patriots or the Jets. Maybe the Giants can count on two wins from Parcells this season. That'll help." -- Announcer on WFAN, the New York City-based sports talk radio station.

Team Skinny

NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES: DT -- The Giants neglected to solve their absence of defensive tackles last season and it hurt them badly when Keith Hamilton went down and out with a ruptured Achilles tendon on Oct. 13. So that should remain as their first-round priority, depending on the quality of the players at that time. It is a year in which the DT is abundant, however.

OG/OT -- The loss of starting RG Jason Whittle (to Tampa Bay) will create a vacancy that the Giants must fill almost immediately. Starting RT Mike Rosenthal signed with Minnesota.

ILB -- Mike Barrow is fine, but he's 33 years old and starting to feel the aches and pains. Backup at the moment is Nick Greisen, a rookie last year. He is a hard worker and intense, but may not have all the necessary skills. If the Giants don't like the O-linemen available in the first few rounds of the draft, including the first, they could go in this direction -- and they will if Georgia's Boss Bailey is still unclaimed.



UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: LS Trey Junkin (somebody has to be kidding. He's 41 years old and after coming out of retirement to make two bad snaps in the Giants' playoff game, he'll slink back without getting a nod); WR Tony Simmons (was a late-season pickup with almost no value. If another team signs him, no problem. Giants may not even try to re-sign him).

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers): DE Byron Frisch (not tendered as RFA); DT Ross Kolodziej (ERFA tender of $375,000 withdrawn); CB Reggie Stephens (ERFA tender of $375,000 withdrawn); RB Damon Washington (not tendered as ERFA).

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: C Chris Bober (tendered at $605,000 with no compensation; should be re-signed, is one of better young centers in conference); CB Ralph Brown (tendered at $605,000 with 5th-round pick as compensation; Brown was valuable as a backup corner as well as a nickel. The Giants will try to retain his services); LB Dhani Jones (tendered at $605,000 with 6th-round pick as compensation; started all season at weakside, and while found wanting he also improved. Until somebody better comes along (as in this upcoming draft) he is going to be critical to keep); LB Brandon Short (tendered at $605,000 with 4th-round pick as compensation; started at strongside and was more than just acceptable. He is being counted on to start -- and get better -- this year. Giants will probably match any reasonable offer he receives).

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: DE Frank Ferrara (tendered at $375,000); TE/LS Dan O'Leary (tendered at $375,000); OG Omar Smith (tendered at $300,000).

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: OT Barrett Brooks (UFA; $655,000/1 yr, no SB; 2003 cap: $450,000); WR Ron Dixon (RFA; $605,000/1 yr); QB Jason Garrett (UFA; $780,000/1 yr, $25,000 SB; 2003 cap: $475,000); WR Ike Hilliard (UFA; $12.78M/5 yrs, $2.5M SB/$1M SB option '04; 2003 cap: $1.03M); S Clarence LeBlanc (ERFA; $300,000/1 yr); LB Kevin Lewis (RFA; $1.975M/3 yrs, $450,000 SB; 2003 cap: $600,000); OT Luke Petitgout ($30M/6 yrs, $9.75M SB; 2003 cap: $2.155M); PK Owen Pochman (ERFA; $300,000/1 yr); CB Kato Serwanga (UFA; $530,000/1 yr, no SB/$25,000 base guarantee; 2003 cap: $450,000); S Omar Stoutmire (UFA; $3.2M/3 yrs, SB unknown).

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: P Jeff Feagles (UFA Seahawks; $4.32M/5 yrs, $500,000 SB; 2003 cap: $855,000); FB Jim Finn (not tendered as RFA by Colts; $985,000/2 yrs, no SB; 2003 cap: $450,000); CB Ray Green (not tendered as RFA by Dolphins; $985,000/2 yrs, no SB; 2003 cap: $450,000); PK Mike Hollis (UFA Bills; 5 yrs, terms unknown); LS Ryan Kuehl (UFA Browns; $3.62M/5 yrs, $325,000 SB; 2003 cap: $595,000); RB Dorsey Levens (UFA Eagles; $2.48M/3 yrs, $300,000 SB; 2003 cap: $755,000); KR Brian Mitchell (UFA Eagles; $3.55M/4 yrs, $500,000 SB; 2003 cap: $880,000); DE Keith Washington (FA Broncos; $680,000/1 yr, $25,000 SB; 2003 cap: $475,000).

PLAYERS LOST: P Matt Allen (cut); TE Dan Campbell (UFA Cowboys; $4M/3 yrs, $1.47M SB); WR Herman Moore (cut); OT Mike Rosenthal (UFA Vikings; $1.8M/2 yrs, $500,000 SB); CB Jason Sehorn (cut); LB Clayton White (cut); OG Jason Whittle (UFA Buccaneers; $8.2M/5 yrs, $1.8M SB); FB Adam Wright (cut).

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.

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