JEFF GARCIA said last night that he and agent Steve Baker got a letter from the Eagles last Thursday informing them that the Eagles "feel they've allotted me enough time to come up with a contract proposal, and that they're heading in a different direction, pursuing a contract extension with A.J. Feeley."

Garcia said he had been wondering when the Birds would sit down with Baker and talk money. The news that they weren't going to do so "hit me like a ton of bricks," Garcia told the Daily News, the quarterback speaking the day after the team announced a 3-year contract extension with Feeley that precludes bringing back Garcia.

"I thought we at least would have an opportunity to sit down and talk numbers," Garcia said.

Eagles sources have said the team wondered about Garcia's intentions early on, when Baker asked for a 5-day window to assess offers after free agency starts on Friday. This past weekend, Baker acknowledged having made that request, but he said he subsequently made it clear to the team he was willing to make a deal before the start of free agency. Garcia said last night that the 5-day window was "something I personally didn't ask for," though he went on "The Tonight Show" in early February and said he would test free agency.

In any case, Garcia said last night that he was surprised and hurt no negotiations ever took place, after he led the team to a 6-2 mark, including a playoff victory, in the wake of the knee injury that ended Donovan McNabb's season.

Asked if he thought the Eagles ever intended to sign him, Garcia, who turned 37 on Saturday, said he initially attributed the lack of talks to Andy Reid's family situation, which led to the coach taking a 1-month leave of absence. Reid's sons Garrett and Britt have been charged with weapon and drug violations.

"As we got toward the end of the month, I asked my agent what the heck was going on," Garcia said. He said Baker then told him the Eagles wanted the Garcia camp to present an offer, something Baker didn't think was wise. Garcia said he agreed.

"If I put something on paper I believed I was worthy of, they could use that against me, say that I was asking more than they were willing to pay," Garcia said. Though he was willing to play in Philadelphia for less money than he would accept somewhere else, he would not have been happy playing at last season's figure, believed to be around $1 million.

"If I just ask for what I made last year, or a little more than what I made last year, then I'm lowballing myself," Garcia said. "After last season, they'd be getting the bargain of the century, and I'm going to be [ticked] off."

Garcia said he felt he demonstrated solid value, that the Eagles should have appreciated.

"It's not just what I was able to do on the field, but what I bring to the locker room, from a leadership standpoint, from a knowledge standpoint," he said.

Garcia said he hasn't spoken with Reid. "I haven't felt right calling him, with what he's going through personally," he said. Garcia said the only Eagles official he has spoken to recently was quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur, whom he called after receiving the letter about the team going in a different direction.

Garcia left no doubt that he will always remember the success he had here, and the fans' reaction to his fiery, enthusiastic style.

"An opportunity like this doesn't present itself with every team, every year," Garcia said. "I understand the value of that . . . to have been able to play in a city where football is life, and the passion is there from the fans every time you step out onto the field, to have the fans embrace me the way they did, was captivating for me and my family as well.

"The relationships with teammates, the feeling in that locker room was unmatched. It was a year where that feeling of appreciation will never be forgotten."

Garcia said he wanted to tell Eagles fans, "I thank them for rejuvenating me and my football life."

He said he has no idea now where he will end up. "Whatever everyone else hears is what I hear," he said. Some teams that had seemed to be possible attractive destinations, such as Chicago, have indicated Garcia is not in their plans. A backup role now might be more likely than a starting job, unless he goes to a downtrodden team - an experience he had said he didn't want to go through again, after stumbling through stints in Cleveland and Detroit in 2004 and 2005. *