EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (March 3, 2005) -- The New York Giants signed middle linebacker Antonio Pierce to a six-year contract and said goodbye to veteran receiver and former first-round draft pick Ike Hilliard.
"Our defensive football team just got a lot better today," general manager Ernie Accorsi said after the Giants lured Pierce away from Washington. "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."
The signing came only two days into the free-agency period and it gives New York a run stopper in the middle of a defense that allowed 134.8 yards on the ground per game last season.
Pierce led the Redskins with 160 tackles last season, including 109 solo. The 26-year-old, four-year veteran also intercepted two passes, recovered two fumbles and forced one in helping Washington's defense improve from 25th overall in 2003 to No. 3 in the NFL in 2004.
Kevin Lewis started at middle linebacker for the Giants last season. He had 88 tackles, second best on the team.
"I thought Antonio Pierce had an outstanding year at the middle linebacker position for the Washington Redskins," coach Tom Coughlin said. "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."
The release of Hilliard, the seventh pick overall in the 1997 NFL Draft, came after the eight-year veteran refused to take a big pay cut, agent Neal Schwartz said. Hilliard was due a roster bonus March 15.
Hilliard leaves New York as the team's fourth leading receiver with 368 career catches and 27 touchdowns.
He started 15 games last season and had 49 catches for 437 yards, a meager 8.9-yard average, and no touchdowns.
"A lot of my life has been there," Hilliard said. "I'll miss a lot of guys in the locker room, I'll miss the coaches, I'll miss everyone upstairs. I made a lot of good friends there. But that ride's over. It's time to go on to something else. I'm disappointed, but I'm not shattered by any means. It's a business. I understand that. They do, too."
Schwartz said three teams have expressed an interest in signing the 28-year-old Hilliard, who has 4,630 career receiving yards.
"I think anyone who has been in the National Football League as long as I have has an unofficial list in his mind of his all-time favorite players -- Ike Hilliard is near the top of mine," Accorsi said. "A pure professional, clutch player, warrior and extraordinary person. I don't think I have ever admired any player I've been around more than Ike."
A University of Florida product, Hilliard overcame a severe neck injury that required surgery as a rookie. He also had wrist, toe, knee, shoulder and sternum injuries, with the serious sternum injury coming during the Giants' run to a Super Bowl appearance in 2001.
Hilliard had 16 catches for 220 yards and two touchdowns in that postseason, with both TDs coming in the 41-0 victory against Minnesota in the 2000 NFC Championship Game. He caught a team postseason record 10 passes for 155 yards against the Vikings.
The Associated Press News Service
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