New York Post

This isn’t quite Sophie’s Choice

- Mark Cannizzaro

LET’S start with this: Listen to Landon Collins before you listen to Eli Apple. Collins, the third-year safety and twice voted into the Pro Bowl, is arguably the most legitimate leader in the Giants locker room and the most important building block on their defense as they attempt to climb from the abyss of this 2-13 season.

So, what Collins says should be taken seriously.

That’s why — as damning as the comments he delivered Tuesday about Apple are — it’s difficult not to side with Collins based on his reputation and body of work versus that of Apple.

Obviously at the end of his rope of tolerance, Collins called Apple, the Giants’ immature second-year cornerback, a “cancer’’ in the locker room and called for the team to rid itself of the headache.

Up until Tuesday, when he clearly decided he’d had enough of protecting Apple, Collins had gone out of his way to say positive, productive things about his troubled teammate.

“There’s one corner that has to establish [himself] and needs to grow, and we all know who that is,” Collins said in an interview with ESPN Radio on Tuesday. “That would be the only person I would change out of our secondary group. The other two guys — DRC [Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie] and Jack Rabbit [Janoris Jenkins] — I love those two guys. They play hard. They love what they do.

“But, that first pick, he’s a cancer.”

That first pick is, of course, Apple, the 10th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

To understand where Collins is coming from is to understand the public support he’s shown Apple.

“I had a sit-down with him, a couple of us had a sit-down with him and we just said, ‘Man regardless of the situation, we got your back. You’re our brother,’ ’’ Collins said two weeks ago. “We need him to be here. We need him to want to be here and not fighting against us or fighting against the coaches.’’

The next day, Apple denied that Collins ever spoke privately to him, calling him a liar without using the word.

“That’s what he said? I guess he don’t remember things then,’’ Collins said. “I know what I did. I’ve spoken highly of him, but it is what it is.”

To understand where Collins is coming from is to understand the timeline of this bizarre sophomore saga of Apple, whose 2017 season has been marred with poor performanc­es and falling out of favor with the coaching staff and his teammates.

After a poor first four games, Apple was benched for the first three series of the fifth game, a lopsided loss to the Chargers. After the game, he complained of being scapegoate­d and spoke crypticall­y about the need for a “culture’’ change on the team.

After a loss at San Francisco, where Apple appeared to show lack of effort on a 49ers TD, he was skewered by coaches in a film session and sources told The Post’s Paul Schwartz that he threatened to leave the facility.

In November, Apple missed practice days to tend to his mother, Annie, who was having successful brain surgery. Following that, he was a healthy scratch against the Chiefs and was inactive against the Redskins, with then-coach Ben McAdoo saying the reason was lack of practice reps.

In a 30-10 loss to the Cowboys, Apple tweeted during the game about an 81-yard TD by Dallas running back Rod Smith, a former Ohio State teammate of his. Tweeting during games is against league rules and it infuriated Giants coaches and teammates.

In Sunday’s game in Arizona, Apple played only on special teams.

So now what with Apple, who showed promise as a rookie, starting 11 games, but has started only seven this year and has seemingly fallen out of favor with almost everyone in the organizati­on?

Other than what to do at quarterbac­k, this is the most serious issue whomever the new Giants general manager and head coach are going to have to handle whenever they’re hired.

Even if Giants management is in agreement with Collins, ridding themselves of Apple is easier said than done. He has two years remaining on his rookie contract and, if cut, would leave the team with a dead-money salary-cap hit of nearly $9 million in 2018 and $4.8 million in 2019.

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