Hamilton jumps in, takes Barber to task

A day after running back Tiki Barber criticized Michael Strahan for putting himself ahead of the team, defensive tackle Keith Hamilton joined the verbal fray yesterday.

"The defense has carried the offense, carried the team, since I've been here," Hamilton told The Star-Ledger yesterday. "(Barber) hasn't been here long enough or done enough to say anything. For him to shoot his mouth off, acting like he's Mr. New York, yeah, I'm ticked off. Strahan is the (NFL) single-season sack record-holder. He's the AP Defensive Player of the Year. He's one of the best -- if not the best -- defensive ends in the game. And you tell me this guy is being greedy? That's a bunch of crap. I've heard enough.

"Who is Tiki Barber to shoot his mouth off? What has he done? He talks like he's acting in the best interest of the team. Tell him to give his $7 million (signing bonus) back. Since he's so charitable, why doesn't he volunteer his $7 million? He says all the politically correct things. Ask him if he's giving up some of his money."

Barber was in Miami yesterday filming a commercial.

"I'm not interested in exchanging barbs over money," Barber said last night. "Strahan's contract doesn't affect me, it doesn't affect Hammer, it affects no one but him. I talked about it because Michael brought me and Jason (Sehorn) into it, like he was better than me."

All of this started Saturday, when Strahan went public with his frustration over stalled contract talks and what he sees as the Giants' unproductive off-season to date. Entering the last year of a four-year, $32 million contract, Strahan rejected a new deal last month that would have paid about $57 million over seven years. The point of contention was a $17 million signing bonus: Strahan wanted the bonus as a lump sum and the team wanted to split it into two payments, one immediate and the other next March.

Last year, Barber and Sehorn signed contracts that included two-phased signing bonuses structured similarly to the one Strahan turned down.

"I'm not Jason and I'm not Tiki," Strahan said Monday. "I don't trust people as easy as Jason and Tiki or their agents do."

In a series of interviews over the past six days, Strahan has also said he doesn't believe the Giants "want to be competitive" and the 2002 season likely will be his last with the team. Strahan is to count more than $12 million against the $71.1 million salary cap.

Barber responded in yesterday's New York Post.

"I don't know if he realizes how much $17 million is," Barber said. "That is absolutely ridiculous to turn that down. ... Michael is not thinking about the team; he's thinking about himself."

Those remarks set off Hamilton, a 10-year veteran who has played with Strahan in all nine of his NFL seasons. Barber has been in the league for five years.

"We've been together since the Giants didn't have an offense," Hamilton said. "Tiki Barber has not been around enough -- he's not been in the trenches enough -- to run his mouth."

On Monday, the Giants will begin their off-season conditioning program. Strahan, Barber and Hamilton have said they plan to participate. As to how the war of words will affect team chemistry, general manager Ernie Accorsi wouldn't speculate yesterday.

"I don't have worries, but I don't want to get into it," Accorsi said.

Hamilton had no concerns.

"What is (Barber) going to do to me?" Hamilton said. "He needs to keep his mouth closed."

Said Barber: "Business is business. I don't have a problem with Michael as a player. I don't have a problem with anyone as a player. As long as you play hard, you're okay with me."

Hamilton said he would like to see the Giants re-sign safety Shaun Williams, who is an unrestricted free agent, and "guaranteed" that the Giants "are going to be competitive" in 2002. He largely dismissed any lingering bad feelings created by the recent talk.

"When someone shoots his mouth off about one of my guys, I'm going to shoot back," Hamilton said. "But we've gone through tougher things than this. This is just words."

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