New York also re-signs Washington
The Giants also re-signed defensive end Keith Washington, who like Mitchell and Levens, was signed as a free agent last spring.
Mitchell and Levens were supposed to be two of the final ingredients that led the Giants to a Super Bowl run last season. Instead, they struggled in a season in which the team finished with a 4-12 record.
Coach Jim Fassel was fired and Tom Coughlin was hired to replace him.
The release of Mitchell and Levens will save the Giants about $1.7 million on their $80.6 million salary cap.
Mitchell, who will turn 36 in August, had one of the worst seasons of his 14-year career. His 20.3-yard average on kickoff returns was 19th in the NFC, and his 5.3-yard average on punt returns was 14th in the conference.
Mitchell, who also played as a third-down specialist, caught four passes for 38 yards and had four rushing attempts for 20 yards, including a one-yard touchdown in the season-opening victory over St. Louis.
He is the NFL's career leader in return yardage and also in total yards with 23,330, 213 more yards than Jerry Rice. Mitchell holds 10 NFL records and has played in 209 consecutive games, the league's longest active streak.
Levens, who was supposed to solve the Giants' short-yardage problems after being signed in April, gained 197 yards and scored three touchdowns on 68 carries. He also caught five passes for 39 yards in 11 games.
Washington, who will be entering his 10th season, had 27 tackles in 14 games. He scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery in the season finale against the NFC champion Carolina Panthers.
Washington received a three-year, $3.5 million contract that included a $350,000 signing bonus.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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