No Waiting Game

Just four months removed from an infamous training camp controversy, Michael Strahan anticipated plenty of retirement talk toward the end of his 15th NFL season.

But Strahan hasn't even started thinking about whether he'll return next season, much less made a decision.

"I'm not worried about that," Strahan said. "When (my career is) over, I'll realize it and think about it then."

He has decided, however, to avoid another dramatic summertime standoff with the Giants, who were stunned when their star defensive end didn't report with his teammates on July 27 in Albany, N.Y. After missing an entire training camp prior to the 2007 regular season, Strahan intends to inform the organization by March if he'll return for a 16th season with the team that selected him in the second round of the 1993 NFL Draft.

"If I don't come back, I want to be fair to the team," Strahan told recently. "I want them to know well before the draft, just in case it affects their draft plans. I don't see it dragging out like last year."

Strahan's timetable for informing the organization of his availability will certainly make matters easier on general manager Jerry Reese, head coach Tom Coughlin and Strahan's teammates, none of whom want to experience another annoying camp without an indecisive Strahan.

But the decision itself won't be any easier for Strahan to make than it was last year.

The first Thursday afternoon in January, when he referred to himself as "too old" and "too tired" to engage in a verbal battle with Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber, sounded like one of those days when Strahan's 36-year-old body pounded home the thought that it can't take much more of this professional football thing. Strahan has experienced more and more of those discouraging days in recent years, the kind when all the aches and pains make him wonder whether even all that money is worth the trouble. He is well aware of how many of his crippled predecessors have difficulty just getting out of bed now that they're in their 50s and 60s, and Strahan wants to be able to enjoy retirement.

Then again, a lighter, leaner Strahan feels fresher than he thought he would following another 17 games, much better than he did this time a year ago. He was still recovering from a season-ending injury to his right foot then, a dislocation of bones and tissue in the middle of his foot that nearly resulted in what Strahan would've deemed career-ending surgery. That injury marked the second time in three years that Strahan's season was essentially cut in half, but he hasn't had to endure any similar physical problems this season.

"I feel great," said Strahan, the Giants' official leader with 141.5 career sacks. "That is a big plus, that my body has held up very well during the season. And it is probably the best I have felt within the last four or five years, to be honest with you, at this point in the season. I feel like I am as healthy as I could expect to be."

Though relatively healthy and happy, Strahan has decided that he won't allow another failure to win a Super Bowl to impact a decision that could adversely affect his qualify of life after football.

"I look at it like this," Strahan said, "if I win a Super Bowl, it is because it is meant to be and it was in the cards and there is participation from everybody. It is not just a one individual thing. If I win one, I just think it is just a great opportunity and I was on the right team at the right time. And if I don't, then I can't be mad at that because there are a lot of great guys who played in this league who never won one, either. All I can do is do my best and not worry about those things."

The 6-5, 255-pound Strahan, a seven-time Pro Bowler who holds the NFL's single-season sack record (23 during the 2001 season), has one season remaining on the seven-year, $46 million contract he signed in 2002. He is due "only" $4 million for the 2008 season, but Strahan's choice might be based less on money than most people suspected when he didn't report to camp in July.

Regardless, the Giants should hope that Strahan returns for another season, even though third-year player Justin Tuck (10 sacks) emerged as an attractive alternative in 2007.

Skipping camp might've aggravated many within the organization, but Strahan still played pretty well during the 2007 season, which included a three-sack game against Detroit on Nov. 18. He didn't perform quite at the Pro Bowl level he reached as recently as two years ago, they needed to spell him more than ever and Osi Umenyiora has supplanted him as the Giants' premier pass-rusher. But Strahan, who recorded nine sacks and forced five fumbles during the regular season, still draws frequent double teams, and continues to play the run better than most defensive ends.

Strahan went without a sack in the Giants' final four regular-season games, but he convinced Coughlin he still wants to play by displaying passion throughout the season, something skeptics questioned when he was mulling retirement.

"His heart has definitely been in the right place," Coughlin said, "and he worked hard to maintain the kind of physical condition he feels good about, and he certainly has played well."

Strahan still commands incomparable respect in the locker room as well.

"He has strong, strong leadership qualities," Coughlin said, "is well-respected by his teammates and he is a part of our leadership council. He was elected a captain. He has great presence."

"He is a true professional and he is a great example for all of the younger guys," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo added. "And he is that day-in and day-out."

No one knows whether he'll remain that type of irreplaceable presence for the Giants later this year – not even Strahan.

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