Swap right there! Giants' Osi Umenyiora for Bears' Lance Briggs

SHARE Swap right there! Giants' Osi Umenyiora for Bears' Lance Briggs

of the Carolina Panthers of the New York Giants on September 12, 2010 at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Giants defeated the Panthers 31-18.

INDIANAPOLIS – Before the 2011 season, two-time All-Pro defensive end Osi Umenyiora asked the New York Giants to choose between two options: Pay me or trade me.

The Giants, with Umenyiora under contract, elected to keep him, and he swallowed his pride and performed at a high level.

Sound familiar, Bears fans?

It should, because of three-time All-Pro linebacker Lance Briggs.

With neither Briggs nor Umenyiora expected to budge from their positions this offseason, two NFL sources suggested the Giants and Bears swap the veterans and provide a win-win for everyone involved.

Player-for-player trades are rare. But this one could make sense.

First, start with the needs.

The Bears need a pass rusher opposite Julius Peppers, and the Giants could use a credible outside linebacker. Blessed with depth at defensive end – Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul are the starters – the Giants simply can’t afford to keep investing in the position, a point owner John Mara concedes.

‘‘Ernie Accorsi’s philosophy was, ‘You can’t have enough pass rushers,’ ” Mara said Tuesday, referring to the Giants’ former general manager. ‘‘We got criticized for that from time to time. But that has proven to be true. That’s been a big part of our team’s success, to have a number of guys who can rush the passer.

‘‘Yes, it’s going to inevitably lead to contract issues and whatnot. But you’re always going to have contract issues. That’s just a part of this business. But that’s such an important position, and I’m glad we’ve had that philosophy because it’s worked out for us.”

Perhaps too well. Mathias Kiwanuka, a 6-5, 267-pound defensive end, posted eight sacks in 2008, when Umenyiora missed the season with a knee injury. But Kiwanuka is currently playing out of position, starting at outside linebacker because of the overabundance of defensive ends.

Second, consider the contracts.

Briggs, 31, is scheduled to make $3.75 million in 2012 and $6.25 million in 2013, the final two years of a six-year, $36 million deal he signed in March 2008. Umenyiora, 30, is expected to make $3.95  million in 2012, the final year of an eight-year, $33.9  million contract he signed in 2005.

The Giants and Bears would have to upgrade the pay for both players to make them happy, but they might consider that because both teams could be postseason contenders next season.

Asked Dec. 29 if he would ask for his release or a trade if the Bears don’t pay him more, Briggs told the Sun-Times, ‘‘I’m just hopeful. I’m just hopeful.”

As for Umenyiora, he admitted he’s thrilled about how this season has played; he’s aiming for a second Super Bowl ring. And while he isn’t starting, the reality is that without him, the Giants wouldn’t be playing Sunday in Super Bowl XLVI. He missed the first three games because of a minor knee surgery, and he missed seven with a high ankle sprain. Yet he still posted nine sacks in nine regular-season games and 3½ more sacks in the postseason.

Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell appreciated Umenyiora’s professionalism.

‘‘It could have been a big distraction. It was not,” Fewell said. ‘‘Behind the scenes, Osi was in every meeting, paying attention to every detail. Osi was all in.”

Umenyiora said he hasn’t considered his future beyond Sunday.

‘‘That would be all speculation, so I try not to buy into that or really think too much about that,” he said. ‘‘I’m still under contract here, so I could be thinking to myself, ‘I’m going to be somewhere else,’ or come out and be like, ‘I want to be somewhere else.’ But that doesn’t mean anything. Whatever they decide is what’s going to happen.”

Asked if he’s at all anxious, he said, ‘‘There’s not any anxiety at all. It’s been a great run. I’ve had a great time. Hopefully, I’ll be able to continue here. But it’s a business, and they’re going to make business decisions.”

For the Bears, the trade could cover up some other issues. Most glaring, Briggs would leave a void at weak-side linebacker. But perennial Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is an outstanding building block for the unit. The Bears are still sorting out what they have at safety, and they could use an upgrade opposite Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman.

But, as the Giants have proven repeatedly, a strong front four can cover up holes in the back seven.

And in Bears coach Lovie Smith’s defense, the driving force is the front four, which could look like this: Peppers at left end, Henry Melton and Stephen Paea or Matt Toeaina inside, and Umenyiora on the right.

That would be a unit to be reckoned with.

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