- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPNNewYork.com
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It's not the interminable waiting or the verbal sparring between owners and players that eats away at Barry Cofield during this never-ending lockout.
The most difficult part to swallow for the New York Giants' defensive tackle is the uncertainty. While the future of the NFL hangs in the balance this summer, the earning potential of fifth-year players like Cofield will be determined as well.
After producing the best season of his career with 54 tackles and four sacks while playing on a one-year restricted free-agent tender, Cofield is finally ready to cash in on his first big contract. But the lockout has left his status uncertain -- like some other fifth-year players, Cofield could become an unrestricted free agent. Or, depending on how it all plays out, the 27-year-old could be a restricted free agent again.
"It is rough," Cofield recently said. "Being restricted last year, it wasn't as frustrating. I don't know. Just to have it happen one year, I took it in stride. I was looking forward to the next season. But now with all the labor strife, and the prospect of being restricted again, it is starting to weigh on me."
Cofield has made more than $4 million during his career and understands he is better off than some other young players. But he has been an absolute bargain for the Giants, and his free-agent status could become a casualty of the lockout if the two sides opt to go by something similar to last year's rules.
"That is going to make a lot of people unhappy," Cofield said. "There would be a small class of unrestricted [free agents] and the rest of us would be stuck [in restricted free agency]."
Just in case, the Giants placed a second-round restricted free-agent tender on Cofield and others in his situation, such as defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka. "To do it again, to roll the dice with injuries and all the things that can happen in this league, it is something I am not willing to do," Cofield said. "Not having that peace of mind of a contract. ... I don't know if I can be happy coming to work knowing that I should have been a free agent twice. Besides the money, just the sense of security. ... I have a family, I want to know where I am going to live next year."
Cofield's first option and dream scenario is to remain a Giant and sign a lucrative contract. Cofield has repeatedly praised the Giants organization for handling these types of situations with class and he hopes to work things out with general manager Jerry Reese. If he can't stay for a multi-year deal, Cofield would like to be able to pursue the best possible deal elsewhere, or a trade.
Last year, the Giants nearly traded Cofield to the New Orleans Saints in a draft-day deal that stalled when the defensive tackle and the Saints could not come to an agreement.
Last month the Giants drafted North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin in the second round. He joins a crowd that already includes Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard and last year's second-round pick, Linval Joseph.
"It definitely does make you think that maybe they are preparing for life without me," Cofield said. "It gave me kind of a sense of closure ... a sense that maybe it is time for me to move on."
Unfortunately for Cofield, all he has right now is time, as he continues to wait to see what will happen, his fate in the hands of the owners, the former players association and lawyers.
"I would love to be back with the Giants," Cofield said. "Hopefully we can work out a long-term deal. That would definitely be my first choice, but you don't always get to script it."
Lockout sacks Giants DT Barry Cofield's free agency prospects -- again.