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TITANS GRANT GEORGE HIS WISH

Eddie George's career with the Tennessee Titans is over.

The team granted George's request Wednesday and released the franchise's all-time leading rusher -- a move forced by salary cap pressures and perhaps George's declining skills.

"The best thing for Eddie George would be for him to finish his career here," General Manager Floyd Reese said at a news conference. "For a number of reasons we were unable to get that done."

The eight-year veteran, who turns 31 in September, rejected the Titans' latest offer and asked for his release Monday so he would have time to catch on with another team before training camps open next week.

The Titans wanted George back, but at a reduced salary. The team's final offer was $1.5 million in base salary -- considerably less than the $4.25 million he expected to make this season.

George, who has never missed a start in his career, was popular with Titans fans, but his production slipped in recent years. In 2000, he ran for 1,509 yards, averaging 3.7 yards per carry. But last season his average fell to 3.3 yards per carry, and his total was 1,031.

The Titans' offense has also changed and now emphasizes the passing of Steve McNair, the NFL's co-MVP in 2003.

Reese said there was a disagreement over a $1 million roster bonus the Titans paid George in March. The team considered that part of his salary for this year, but George considered it part of the previous deal.

The Titans are looking at free agent running back Antowain Smith, who reportedly visited the team Tuesday.

Eli's Giant headache

Little went smoothly or according to convention when quarterback Eli Manning entered the NFL in April by steering a draft-day trade to the New York Giants, telling the San Diego Chargers that he wouldn't play for them.

Now he faces another potentially turbulent period as his representatives and Giants officials negotiate his first contract, pushing to get him to training camp on time next week but confronting a maze of problems trying to squeeze the deal into the framework of the league's salary cap.

Cap headaches are particularly difficult for the Giants because they obtained Manning after he was selected by the Chargers with the top choice in the draft, not before.

Each NFL team is assigned a rookie-pool allotment, essentially a salary cap for rookies within the overall $80.6 million salary cap for next season; each club's allotment is based on its number and quality of draft picks. The Giants were assigned a rookie-pool allotment of $4.37 million, ninth highest in the NFL, based in part on them having the fourth overall selection in the draft, which they used on quarterback Philip Rivers before trading him to San Diego.

If the Giants had swapped selections with the Chargers and chosen Manning first, they would have been given a new rookie-pool allotment to reflect the draft's top pick. Now they must try to fit a contract for the top pick into, roughly, a fourth-choice slot. And they must do so while dealing with Tom Condon, perhaps the NFL's most powerful agent.

"We've got fourth-slot money, and you can't change that," Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi told the Washington Post this week. "But I don't think it's going to be a problem. We and Condon can be creative enough to overcome that."

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