Kerry's ready for his next challenge

After meeting with Ernie Accorsi and realizing he has no future with the Giants, after saying his goodbyes to the equipment men, the trainers and a few teammates, after walking out of Giants Stadium one last time, Kerry Collins got into his Chevy Silverado and drove home.

The ride wasn't as depressing as you might imagine. He said it was liberating.

"Driving home, I felt like a new man," he said. "I'm ready to move on. Hopefully, there will be some opportunities out there that will present themselves, and I'll give everything I have to that and see what happens."

Collins knew this day would come; it was simply a matter of when. Eli Manning was acquired Saturday as the Giants' quarterback of the future, and now he's the quarterback of the present after the team bid farewell to Collins yesterday. The official waiver transaction will occur in the next day or two after the Giants make a token bid to see if anyone is willing to trade for a 31-year-old quarterback with one year and $7 million left on his contract.

Collins had some wonderful moments with the Giants. Some dreadful ones, too. He gave his signature performance with five touchdown passes against the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game after the 2000 season.Then he threw four interceptions in Super Bowl XXXV in a 34-7 loss to the Ravens.

He resuscitated a career that was given up for lost in 1999, and he repaired an image tainted by alcoholism and accusations of racist comments.

He led the injury-ravaged Giants to an unlikely playoff berth in 2002 but wilted with the team in the misery of 2003, when the Giants were thought to be Super Bowl-ready but crashed to 4-12 and took coach Jim Fassel with them.

Now Collins is gone, the latest and biggest name in an offseason purge completed with the blockbuster trade for Manning.

Accorsi and coach Tom Coughlin first said they'd try to keep Collins another year, possibly in a caretaker role until Manning is ready. Accorsi even talked about restructuring Collins' contract, something Collins wanted no part of.

The general manager suggested to the media that he never told Collins he would have to take a pay cut; Collins said his impression was he'd have to take a drastic one. But even after the misunderstanding came to light, Accorsi said it would have been difficult to have him back.

Translation: The Giants were paying lip service, choosing instead to clear the decks for the new franchise quarterback.

"It was pretty obvious to me what was going to happen and what they were going to do," Collins said. "I'm not a math whiz, but I can put two and two together real quick."

In this case, two plus two equaled foregone conclusion: over and done.

Which is too bad, because it would have made a lot of sense to keep Collins, if for no other reason than to buy Manning some time. The kid figures to be like just about every other rookie quarterback and struggle through a dismal first season, so it would have been better to have a strong veteran presence to smooth the transition.

The Giants plan to bring in a veteran - perhaps Damon Huard or maybe even Vinny Testaverde - to oversee the offense until Manning is ready. Collins would have been the better choice.

"You never know how the [2004] season was going to play out," Collins said. "There was a lot of debate on whether they wanted to play him or not. All in all, in fairness to myself and my history, that's just something I wasn't interested in doing."

So Collins is gone, free to strike a deal with another club. But with no starting jobs open, he won't have many options.

Baltimore is a possibility, especially with Fassel there to assist Brian Billick. But Billick has promised the starting job to second-year man Kyle Boller, so Collins wouldn't have much of a shot to start unless Boller struggled for a prolonged period.

Dallas is another intriguing situation, although Bill Parcells is thought to be lukewarm about Collins. The Cowboys' quarterback situation is somewhat uncertain, with Quincy Carter being pressed by newly acquired Drew Henson. Parcells apparently is interested in Testaverde as a veteran presence, but Collins is a younger and more viable alternative.

The 49ers are a possibility - untested Tim Rattay is the starter - but they are getting younger and cheaper by the day.

"In the end, it will all work out," Collins said. "A lot of teams have starters penciled in, but there's nothing I can do about that. I'm just looking for a good situation, whatever that may be."

It was generally a positive situation for Collins as long as it lasted. He reached the Super Bowl, overcame his alcohol problems and is now married with an infant daughter. All in all, life's pretty good. Just not good enough to stay around now that his team has been taken away and given to a 23-year-old star-in-waiting.

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