When the Best Isn't Good Enough

Only a few weeks after Amani Toomer ripped the Giants and the front office told him they didn't expect to bring him back for a 14th season, Jerry Reese sounded as if he still regarded the veteran wide receiver as one of his own.

"I can say this about Amani Toomer: I would not bet against Amani Toomer," the general manager said when asked if anything was going on with the free agent. "In any respect, I would not bet against him. I can say that."

At this point, Toomer probably doesn't ca re who's betting against him. He's still looking for a team to bet on him.

The 34-year-old Toomer hasn't made a dent on the free-agent market since the gates opened in late February. He hasn't gone on a visit and there haven't been any reports of substantive talks between his agent and any teams. A source familiar with Toomer's situation said it could be a while before anything develops – perhaps not until after the draft when teams get a feel for whether they need a veteran like Toomer to tutor a young player or fill a hole yet to be plugged.

With Plaxico Burress' situation unresolved, it would seem the Giants would have left the door open for Toomer's return. And to a degree, they have, with Reese reminding reporters "you never say never" when it comes to a free agent.

But Toomer's biting remarks he delivered during a Super Bowl week charity event seemingly make the rift between himself and the team irreparable. Especially after he said the team had an agenda to throw the ball to the younger players and not him down th e stretch.

After catching five passes for a season-high 85 yards and a touchdown against the Redskins in Week 13, Toomer had only 11 receptions total in the next five games.

"I just think the last couple of games I wasn't a big part of the offense and we lost a big percentage of the games (four of the last five)," Toomer said. "I feel like you can't tell me (that) didn't play a big role in it. I think it did. … The first game (after Burress shot himself) I had one of my best games of the year. From that game on, I don't know what happened."

A recent report indicated the Giants questioned Toomer's "dedication and attitude" during the past couple of seasons. The report cited unnamed people familiar with the Giants' thinking.

But the true story, according to a source, is the Giants never doubted Toomer's work ethic. And how could they? After all, in 2006, he had to be carried off the field after=2 0the overtime win over the Eagles in Philly because he had exhausted himself while recording 12 catches to aid the comeback. And just last offseason, Toomer was making juggling catches down the field during organized team activities.

That's right: after achieving a career goal in winning his first Super Bowl, Toomer was still giving his all in a meaningless practice against rookies and roster long shots in June. And in the locker room afterward, he told reporters he just loved being on the field again – no matter if it was a game or practice.

Hardly sounds like a guy who isn't dedicated or doesn't believe he can still play.

"I'm very honest with myself. Everybody who knows me knows that," Toomer said in January. "And they know if I felt like I was going to hurt the team or not contribute, I definitely know when to say when. But right now, I thought down the stretch I was readying myself for a long run and it just never came." Of course, the source who said the Giants never doubted Toomer's work ethic did say the team had concerns about things like blocking and his inability to work with the younger players. And perhaps that's why the Giants believe it's time to move on from their second-round pick in 1996.

For Toomer, making it this far – with any team – once seemed like a long shot.

"My third year, I didn't want to play anymore," he said. "But I told myself to play hard just one more year and do everything I can. I wasn't enjoying it, but because of the work I put into it, I ended up playing a lot and making big plays. Everything started to change and from then on, I started to put a lot of effort into it."

From then on, he was a Giant. And it seemed to everyone he would be one forever.

This past summer, Toomer and second-year wide receiver Steve Smith were driving from Albany back to New Jersey during a break in training camp. Smith asked Toomer how many years he had remaining on his contract. Smith expected Toomer to say he had a few more seasons to go.

"He said he could possibly be gone next year. It was surprising to even hear that," Smith, the Giants' promising young wide receiver, said in recalling the conversation. "We were talking about how he was the all-time leading receiver in Giants history and all the history he's had here."

All of it means very little now because, for the first time in his career, Toomer is at the business end of playing in the NFL.

"It'll be strange (playing for another team), but at the end of the day you have to take nostalgia and all that stuff out of it," Toomer said. "That's pretty much for the fans and for people like that. As a player, you have to kind of divorce yourself from that and look at it as a business. It's a hard process for me, but I think that's what I'm coming to grips with.

"It's hard not to get emotional because I've been there so long, but I've seen it happen many, many times before to other players. It's part of the business. We have a disagreement – they have one opinion of me and I have another. When a relationship is good, it's good; when it's not, it's not."

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