Giants make smart move

Shortly after becoming New York's first free agent signing of 2005, Antonio Pierce told TGI in a exclusive phone interview that he was "absolutely shocked" that the Redskins didn't try harder to retain his services.

You know the old saying: One man's trash is another man's treasure.

The Giants were all too happy to land the heady Pierce, who agreed to a six-year, $26 million deal with a $6.5 million signing bonus.

The Giants had looked into Pittsburgh free agent Kendrell Bell, who signed with Kansas City, and determined he was too costly. New York had no interest in Baltimore MLB Ed Hartwell, who ended up in Atlanta.

Pierce, described as one of the smartest players in the league by those that have played with and against him, will upgrade the MLB spot that was handled by Kevin Lewis last season.

"I thought Antonio Pierce had an outstanding year at the middle linebacker position for the Washington Redskins," head coach Tom Coughlin said. "He led their team in tackles and literally played sideline-to-sideline defense. We're very excited to have a player of his caliber join our defensive football team. I'm sure that our scheme, the way it's designed, will take full advantage of his aggressive play."

Pierce, a 6-1, 240-pounder, started all 16 games at middle linebacker for the Redskins in 2004 in place of injured former Giant Micheal Barrow. Pierce was credited with a team-high 160 tackles (109 solo) and had one sack, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. Pierce had double-digit tackle totals in eight games, including 15 versus Baltimore, 14 at Dallas and at Philadelphia, and 13 (seven solo) in Giants Stadium on September 26. He had nine tackles (six solo) when Washington defeated the Giants in FedEx Field on December 5.

"Our defensive football team just got a lot better today," general manager Ernie Accorsi said. "Antonio Pierce is a sideline-to-sideline playmaker. We are not only pleased that we have him, but we are equally pleased that we don't have to play against him anymore."

"I just want to be a player they don't have a knock on," he responded. "I leave everything in my tank on the field."

Pierce's addition should help the Giants improve from their lowly ranking of 28th in the league against the run last season.

"I'm going to give my best and they're going to get everything they want out of me," stated Pierce, who was given Giants great Harry Carson's number 53.

Apparently it wasn't enough for the Redskins, whom Pierce gave an opportunity to match New York's offer, which Washington promptly declined.

"You never know," he said. "It didn't turn out that way. The Giants were one of the first teams I heard from. It's a division team, so I'm familiar with the guys. I look forward to better things with the Giants. It's time to win the East and knock Philly off."

With Pierce in the starting lineup, Washington's defense improved from No. 25 in the NFL in 2003 (allowing 338.3 yards per game) to third in the league last year (267.6). "He's probably the biggest reason why we're a top defense," three-time Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington said last year.

"Every time we talk about a highlight film or doing a bunch of great things, he is one of the guys," Washington coach Joe Gibbs said last season. "He will play great on special teams if he gets an opportunity. He is super smart. Our defense thinks he can play linebacker at any position. He has been outstanding for us."

In his four seasons with the Redskins, the 26-year-old Pierce played in 56 games with 26 starts.

Pierce joined Washington as an undrafted free agent on April 22, 2001.

From undrafted to starting middle linebacker on an NFL flagship franchise?

"It's a new beginning," Pierce said. "I'm out to make a name for myself and this is a good place to make a name for myself.

"I couldn't be in a better place to make a bigger name for myself."

As a rookie, he played in all 16 games, including eight starts after Arrington and Shawn Barber suffered injuries. Pierce finished the season with 64 tackles (48 solo) and an interception.

In 2002, Pierce played in eight games with two starts. He missed the first three games of the season with an ankle injury, returned for a game, then was inactive for five games. The following year, Pierce played in all 16 games, primarily on special teams. He was third on the Redskins with 18 special teams tackles and also contributed nine tackles (six solo) on defense.

When the Redskins opened training camp in 2004, Pierce was behind Barrow on the depth chart. But Barrow never played because of patella tendonitis. Pierce stepped in and had an outstanding season that included a 78-yard touchdown on an interception return in San Francisco and his selection as a second alternate to the Pro Bowl.

Pierce finished his collegiate career at the University of Arizona, where he played in 11 games in 2000, recording 77 tackles, three sacks and an interception. Prior to that, Pierce played at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif.

Now it's on to the bright lights of the big city.

It 'wows' you at first," Pierce said. "But it's a business and you've got to put guys like Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson in perspective. There are a lot of other great players, too. But like I said, I'm here to make a name for myself.

"I heard the city loves linebackers, I hope they're going to love me."

Our take: While somewhat surprising that New York's first free agent move was a linebacker, it sure looks like Pierce is the perfect player to man the middle of Tim Lewis' defense. TGI loves the signing.

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