"Close your ears, Tom Coughlin, but there is more on minds of Giants players than simply Sunday’s game against the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium.
When NFL teams reach the part of the schedule the Giants find themselves in right now — four games to play and little chance of a playoff berth — the players’ minds begin to wander toward their respective futures, depending on their contractual and roster status.
It is a game within the games when the season bleeds toward January.
The 5-7 Giants, winners of five of their past six games, are not officially eliminated from the playoffs, nor are the 5-7 Chargers. But both teams need significant — if unrealistic — help even if they win their final four games.
That makes the potential end to the careers of some of the Giants’ top players seem more real, because a mere month remains in the regular season.
For example, the contracts of Super Bowl-winning fixtures, defensive end Justin Tuck and receiver Hakeem Nicks, expire after this season.
Cornerback Terrell Thomas, who should be nominated for Comeback Player of the Decade for returning to from after two consecutive season-ending knee surgeries, does not know what lies ahead as he plays out the final year of his deal.
Middle linebacker Jon Beason, the midseason trade acquisition who quickly became the glue to a Giants defense that was lost for the first several games, also faces an uncertain future with the team.
Running back Brandon Jacobs, who was re-signed earlier this season for his second tour of duty with the Giants, is in moment-to-moment mode, too.
This is not to say these players will be focused only on their respective futures at kickoff Sunday in San Diego, but human nature is tricking their minds to wander.
“Sure, it’s on your mind,” Beason conceded. “I knew coming here that what I do on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis was either going to give me the opportunity to be here next year … or not. Based on the way they do things around here, the guys on this team, the coaches, the city, the expectation level, I want to be here, 100 percent.”
Asked if he’s playing to beat the Chargers as much as he is auditioning to remain a Giant, Beason said, “Sure, especially if you feel like you’ve got a lot left in the tank, which I feel like I do.
“It would be a great story,” Beason said. “A team that had not traded for a player since 1986 and you happen to be that one guy, and you come in you do well and you finish your career there? That’s a great story.”
Thomas said “you fight” the temptation to think about the future at this time of year, but added, “It’s human nature.”
“I’d love to stay here my whole career,” he said. “You definitely think about it, but you kind of try to wash it out.”
Thomas said he believes he has shown the Giants enough to return next season, and who’s to argue based on the big plays he’s made from his nickel spot this season?
“I feel like I’ve shown the people in this locker room and the coaches and the front office that I can still play this game,” he said.
Thomas, though, is a realist and knows every story is not guaranteed a fairy-tale ending.
“Every good thing comes to an end,” Thomas said. “There are a lot of guys have won championships here. Eventually some will stay, some will go elsewhere. It’s a part of the game, and we accept it. You always want to end where you started, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.”
Jacobs, in his ninth season, sounded like he would love to return in 2014, provided his balky knee cooperates after offseason surgery.
“There is no place in the National Football League I’d rather be than 1925 Giants Drive. Nowhere,” Jacobs said. “There is not a better place for me. I’d rather be here than go somewhere and be undefeated. This is where I belong. I’m a Giant at heart. I love this organization. I love these fans. I love that ‘NY.’ ”
Beason, who spent his first six seasons with the Panthers, envisioned himself retiring in Carolina, after having watched several former teammates do so.
“That’s class, that’s what you want,” he said. “You never really picture yourself leaving, but I also know how things happen and things change, people change. For me, this move is part of the journey. It was meant to happen.”