The Giants made their first big move of free agency, adding heady former Redskins linebacker Antonio Pierce. Pierce, who will play middle linebacker in New York, agreed to a six-year, $26 million deal with a $6.5 million signing bonus.
The Giants had looked into Pittsburgh free agent Kendrell Bell and determined he was too costly. New York had no interest in Baltimore MLB Ed Hartwell.
Pierce, described as one of the smartest players in the league by those that have played with and against him, will upgrade the MLB spot that was handled by Kevin Lewis last season.
Pierce, a 6-1, 240-pounder, started all 16 games at middle linebacker for the Redskins in 2004. He was credited with a team-high 160 tackles (109 solo) and had one sack, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. Pierce had double-digit tackle totals in eight games, including 15 versus Baltimore, 14 at Dallas and at Philadelphia, and 13 (seven solo) in Giants Stadium on September 26. He had nine tackles (six solo) when Washington defeated the Giants in FedEx Field on December 5.
“I thought Antonio Pierce had an outstanding year at the middle linebacker position for the Washington Redskins,” head coach Tom Coughlin said. “He led their team in tackles and literally played sideline-to-sideline defense. We’re very excited to have a player of his caliber join our defensive football team. I’m sure that our scheme, the way it’s designed, will take full advantage of his aggressive play.”
“Our defensive football team just got a lot better today,” general manager Ernie Accorsi said. “Antonio Pierce is a sideline-to-sideline playmaker. We are not only pleased that we have him, but we are equally pleased that we don’t have to play against him anymore.”
With Pierce in the starting lineup, Washington’s defense improved from No. 25 in the NFL in 2003 (allowing 338.3 yards per game) to third in the league last year (267.6).
“He’s probably the biggest reason why we’re a top defense,” three-time Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington said last year.
“Every time we talk about a highlight film or doing a bunch of great things, he is one of the guys,” Washington coach Joe Gibbs said last season. “He will play great on special teams if he gets an opportunity. He is super smart. Our defense thinks he can play linebacker at any position. He has been outstanding for us.”
In his four seasons with the Redskins, Pierce played in 56 games with 26 starts.
Pierce joined Washington as an undrafted free agent on April 22, 2001. As a rookie, he played in all 16 games, including eight starts after Arrington and Shawn Barber suffered injuries. Pierce finished the season with 64 tackles (48 solo) and an interception.
In 2002, Pierce played in eight games with two starts. He missed the first three games of the season with an ankle injury, returned for a game, then was inactive for five games. The following year, Pierce played in all 16 games, primarily on special teams. He was third on the Redskins with 18 special teams tackles and also contributed nine tackles (six solo) on defense.
When the Redskins opened training camp in 2004, Pierce was behind former Giant Mike Barrow on the depth chart. But Barrow never played because of patella tendonitis. Pierce stepped in and had an outstanding season that included a 78-yard touchdown on an interception return in San Francisco and his selection as a second alternate to the Pro Bowl.
Pierce finished his collegiate career at the University of Arizona, where he played in 11 games in 2000, recording 77 tackles, three sacks and an interception. Prior to that, Pierce played at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif.