Collins era to end with sack

Refuses to accept pay cut or to rework cap-unfriendly deal, so Giants will let him go after five years as QB

Kerry Collins left Giants Stadium alone and unencumbered. With his teammates deep into meetings and workouts in Tom Coughlin's offseason program, he walked out at 10 a.m. yesterday into a driving rain carrying no equipment, no mementos and no regrets.

The only thing he took with him after five seasons as the Giants' quarterback was a picture of his daughter, Riley, that had been in his locker. Someone asked if he would be back the next day. "No," he said. "Why?"

So ended a stay in which Collins rehabilitated a reputation once in tatters. He gave up alcohol, married, began a family and became involved in charitable work while leading the Giants to a Super Bowl and rising to third on their passing yardage list.

"It's been a great five years," he said, minutes after a meeting with general manager Ernie Accorsi in which he sealed his fate by refusing to adjust his salary cap-unfriendly contract. "I'm looking forward to a new start somewhere."

The Giants have not released Collins, waiting in the unlikely event a team is interested in a trade. But the Eli Manning deal Saturday, followed by Collins' talk with Accorsi, meant his days with the team soon will be over.

Several teams are expected to have interest in Collins, perhaps including the Ravens, 49ers, Cowboys and Cardinals, and the Giants eventually will replace him with a veteran to back up Manning or to start if he is not ready. Damon Huard worked out for team officials yesterday.

Collins initiated the meeting, going to Accorsi's office after reporting for the first workday since the trade. For cap reasons, the team could not afford Manning and the $7-million base salary Collins was due for 2004. Accorsi offered creative solutions, such as extending the deal for cap purposes with voidable years while reducing the base salary, but Collins was not interested. He was not told he will be cut, but he left the meeting assuming he is through.

"I'm not a math whiz, but I can put two and two together real quick," said Collins, who aside from contract issues was wary of the awkwardness of being on the same roster as Manning.

Collins later called to thank co-owner Wellington Mara. "He just said, 'Thank you for everything the Giants have done for me,"' Mara said, "and I told him it was an honor to have him play here."

Collins, 31, who signed in 1999 in what turned out to be a free-agency coup for Accorsi, will be the latest prominent Giant to be cut since the cap has been in place, including Phil Simms, Rodney Hampton, Jessie Armstead, Jason Sehorn and Mike Barrow.

Many Giants are concerned about winning with a rookie quarterback. One said members of the defense have spoken about the additional burden on them. Several would not comment yesterday on Manning or on Collins' departure, including Michael Strahan and Ike Hilliard.

Tiki Barber would not talk about Collins until he speaks to him but said the team will accept Manning and grow. "It's new for all of us," he said. "That's the way I'm looking at it. When you play like we did last year, changes happen."

Amani Toomer said, "It's a tough situation. I'm excited to work with a new guy but I feel sorry for Kerry. He never got a chance to play himself out of his position. Everything definitely has been turned upside down. You look at eras by the quarterback. This is a new era of Giant football. We'll see how [Manning] does."

Collins joined the Giants soon after leaving a rehab facility for alcohol abuse and since then has been a rock of stability, starting 67 consecutive games. His 16,875 yards trail only Simms and Charlie Conerly in team history. "I'm proud of where I am today as opposed to where I was when I got to the Giants," he said.

In the tunnel leading to the parking lot, Collins thanked the fans and said he will most remember friendships made in the locker room and the 41-0 rout of the Vikings in the NFC title game after the 2000 season, played on the field behind him. Then he was gone.

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