One of the worst defensive seasons in New York Giants history claimed another victim -- middle linebacker Antonio Pierce.
The Giants announced Thursday that they had released Pierce, who led the defense for the past five years during a tenure that included four playoff trips and a Super Bowl XLII victory in the 2008 season.
Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan and defensive line coach Mike Waufle were fired after the season, and Pierce, who signed a six-year, $26 million contract with the Giants in 2005, was let go one month later.
Pierce told the Giants' official Web site that he met with coach Tom Coughlin on Wednesday and general manager Jerry Reese on Thursday. The result of those talks was Pierce's release.
"I appreciate everything the Giants' organization has done for me," Pierce said. "I told both (coach) Tom Coughlin and (general manager) Jerry Reese when I sat in front of them that I have no animosity, I have no anger. It's nowhere near that kind of situation. You might not agree with everything that's said, but you understand how the game is. It comes and goes. ...
"I have nothing but very strong love for the New York Giants. Obviously, I wanted to end it when my contract ended, but it didn't. It ended a year early. But I have no regrets. I have nothing to look back on and wish I had done it differently. Now it's time to look forward at the possibilities that I have."
Pierce still believes he can play, saying his neck injury shouldn't be a problem if he wants to play a 10th NFL season.
Pierce's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, expressed similar sentiments. Rosenhaus posted on his Twitter page that "Antonio Pierce is a free agent and there is great interest in signing him now that he's healthy. His back has improved and he's ready to go!"
Pierce, 31, led the Giants in tackles three times, and he was a three-year captain, a Pro Bowl pick in 2006 and one of the inspirational leaders of the team. He has 686 tackles, nine sacks and seven interceptions in his career.
"A.P. came right in and took the bull by the horns from Day 1 and was very instrumental in helping the New York Giants win a lot of games and accomplishing a lot of our goals during his time here," Reese said. "He has been an outstanding Giant, and we wish him nothing but the best for his family and future."
Pierce did have one major off-the-field problem with the Giants. He drove a wounded Plaxico Burress to the hospital in November 2008 after the star wide receiver shot himself in a New York nightclub and then took Burress' unlicensed gun back to New Jersey.
A grand jury opted not to indict Pierce this past summer, but the incident, which led to Burress being sent to prison, was a burden for the linebacker and the team for almost a year, even though Giants president John Mara openly defended Pierce.
"When we brought him in here, we were interested in A.P. for all of the dimensions he brought to the table -- his leadership qualities, his natural charismatic ability to rally the troops, he loved football, he's a very smart football player -- he took great pride in studying the tape and knowing what everybody did on defense," Coughlin said. "He had the ability to communicate assignments on defense as the leader in the huddle. ... He has worn that Giant uniform very, very proudly."
Said Pierce: "When I came to New York, I wanted to be a dominant player and help this organization win a championship, which we did in Super Bowl XLII. I wanted to be a leader, and I did that. ... I wanted to be a guy who always led by example, a guy you could count on every day. You never had to worry if A.P. was going to be at practice or if he was going to show up for the game. I was going to be there."
With Pierce no longer in their plans, the Giants might turn to Chase Blackburn or Jonathan Goff to start at middle linebacker. Blackburn started two games in Pierce's place before giving way to Goff for the remainder of the season.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.