Hoping to stay, Kerry likely is out

Kerry Collins knows that Eli Manning's arrival "pretty much assures my future here with the Giants will be over." He's just hoping that future lasts one more year.

Collins made it very clear yesterday that he doesn't want the Giants to release him or trade him, even if it means spending the 2004 season as Manning's backup. And despite five mostly successful seasons with the Giants, including a memorable run to Super Bowl XXXV, Collins insisted he's not bitter about being pushed out the door.

"The Giants are trying to establish a quarterback that's going to be here for the next 10 years. I certainly can understand that," Collins said. "I'm not going to be around forever. They see Eli as a great talent, a guy who can carry the Giants for a lot of years.

"And I'll do whatever I can to help him this year. This is a situation where I'm not going to be bitter. I'm not going to hold it against Eli. I'm not going to hold it against the Giants. I'm going to do everything I can for this team to help them win. I've had a great experience here and I think I owe that to them."

Giants GM Ernie Accorsi said keeping Collins "would be the best of all worlds for us" and Giants coach Tom Coughlin called Collins yesterday and told him "don't assume a thing." Still, it's not likely to happen.

The Giants are expected to release or trade Collins sometime in the next few months. Since his salary cap number is a robust $8.9 million this season, trading him will be difficult. But however they get rid of him, it would clear $7 million in cap space for the Giants this year.

Collins' only request is that whatever the Giants do, he wants them to do it quickly "so I can explore different options." He said he's been bracing for this for months, ever since the speculation began that the Giants were interested in drafting his replacement. And even after the Chargers took Manning with the first pick yesterday, Collins said he expected the Giants would use the fourth pick on Miami of Ohio quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Then, while watching the draft on TV, he heard about the trade.

"When everything was happening today, sure my emotions were all over the charts," Collins said. "But having some time to think about it and realizing this was a possibility, I'm just thankful for the opportunity the Giants have given me and the support they've given me over the last five years."

If his career in New York is over, Collins will leave as one of the greatest quarterbacks in franchise history. In five years, he posted a 34-33 record and threw for 16,875 yards, good for third on the Giants' all-time list behind only Charlie Conerly and Phil Simms. Still, he's convinced he'd be leaving the Giants in a good situation, even if he's leaving a 4-12 team in a rookie quarterback's hands.

"I think they can (win this year)," Collins said. "There's enough good players in that locker room with enough heart and determination and willingness to rebound from last year that they can be a good football team."

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