Landon Collins has danced around it, confronted it head-on, tried to be a good teammate and served up critical commentary when necessary. Now there is no mistaking what Collins is thinking: He does not want Eli Apple back with the Giants, going so far as to call him a “cancer.’’
Collins underwent surgery Christmas Day to repair a fractured right forearm but he is assured of returning to the Giants in 2018, as he is a marquee player the team wants to build around. Collins, though, is through with Apple, as the escalation of negativity around the second-year cornerback continues to swirl.
Collins, named recently to his second consecutive Pro Bowl, was asked Tuesday in an interview on ESPN Radio what he would advise new management about the team’s defensive backfield, and he pulled no punches as to who he wants to see return — Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins — and who he does not — Apple.
“There’s one corner that has to establish [himself] and needs to grow, and we all know who that is,” Collins said. “That would be the only person I would change out of our secondary group. Besides the other two guys — DRC and Jackrabbit — I love those two guys. They play hard. They love what they do. But, that first pick … he’s a cancer.”
This is not the first time Collins has critiqued Apple, but never with such biting words. Two weeks ago, Apple came close to calling Collins a liar after Collins said he and other teammates engaged in “sit-downs’’ with Apple “multiple times’’ trying to help him through this difficult season. A day later, Apple refuted that claim, saying Rodgers-Cromartie and Brandon Marshall were helpful to him but Collins never reached out to him.
“No,’’ Apple said, when asked specifically if Collins ever tried to help him.
“That’s what he said? I guess he don’t remember things then,’’ Collins said at the time. “But I’m not about to start that conversation with me and my teammate. It is what it is. I know what I did. I’ve spoken highly of him but it is what it is.’
Apple, 22, has devolved into a symbol of everything that has gone wrong for the Giants as they take a 2-13 record into Sunday’s season finale against the Redskins. Apple was benched for the first three defensive series against the Chargers because of poor practice habits. Sources told The Post that Apple twice threatened to walk out of the team facility after hearing coaches and teammates rip him for not hustling in a game against the 49ers. In the 30-10 loss to the Cowboys, Apple was not active but attracted the ire of teammates and interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo by tweeting during the game, a violation of NFL rules. Apple retweeted a post from an Ohio State fan site lauding Rod Smith’s 81-yard touchdown reception against the Giants. Apple and Smith were college teammates.
Apple’s mother had successful brain surgery during the season, causing him to miss practice time. He was inactive for four consecutive games — a healthy scratch — but played 60 of the 68 defensive snaps in the loss to the Eagles. Apple did not receive a single snap on defense in Arizona, playing only seven special teams snaps in the loss, continuing the strange decline of the 10th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Collins two weeks ago showed support for Apple, saying, “We need him to be here, we need him to want to be here and not fighting against us. If he’s fighting against the coaches or the organization or whoever he’s fighting against in his head, we don’t need him fighting us. That causes conflict.
“It’s a within-him battle, it’s inside him he’s fighting with,’’ Collins said.
Now Collins is saying something different: Apple is a cancer to the team.