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Mixed signals about quarterback situations

By Pat Kirwan


(May 8, 2004) -- This offseason has turned the quarterback world upside down. Maybe it's a sign of the times but I challenge anyone to make sense of the state of affairs at the most important position in football.

First the Dolphins trade for a little-known third-string player from the Eagles, A.J. Feeley, and announce he's the probable starter in September. Don't get me wrong, Feeley is a nice young player but 154 pass attempts in 2002 isn't enough to go on. After a few days of minicamp, Jay Fiedler -- with a much better command of the offense -- appears back in the lead for now.

It's easy to understand strengthening the depth at the position, bringing in some competition and not going overboard in salaries. But what is a good fit for the quarterback position is up for debate with more teams than ever before, and it's hard to get two clubs to agree on what is the formula.

The Redskins got some valuable playing time for their first-round draft pick, Patrick Ramsey, last fall. When Joe Gibbs came back to coaching he promptly traded for veteran Mark Brunell and signed him to a $15 million three-year contract. Brunell still is a nice player but health has been an issue.

The Redskins formula for the position isn't exactly how a number of teams are handling it at this time. It's hard to argue with a franchise that will spare no expense to win, but Ramsey is back to the bench until further notice.

Which begs the question: Can the 49ers, Ravens, Cardinals, Cowboys and Bears actually see the position that much differently? There are quality players like Kerry Collins, Kurt Warner and even Tim Couch who could at the very least add competition and probably win a starting job at one or two of these places, yet there is little to no interest.

Clearly, many teams either don't want competition or they're willing to pay the going rate for a backup. Brunell got starter money and Jeff Garcia will get over $17 million for his first three years in Cleveland. The big paydays of early March are gone. Warner is a two-time NFL MVP and Collins brought his team to a Super Bowl, and both are younger than Brunell and Garcia.

I wonder what the QB market would have been if all four were available back in March? Tampa Bay talked about Garcia coming to compete for the job; Cleveland saw it a lot different and put the money on the table.

Out in San Francisco, Tim Rattay just injured his groin at minicamp and will require surgery. The Niners had no intention of bringing in a quality QB -- and Rattay is expected to be ready for Kickoff Weekend -- but this injury might get them to reassess the situation.

The Cowboys appear ready to sign Vinny Testaverde after June 1, which is a good move because he is old enough to think like a backup and help in the development of the young Cowboys quarterbacks.

What's interesting right now is how many teams would love a Testaverde-type guy. Neil O'Donnell could find work in a minute but has decided to retire. Testaverde will have his pick of teams. But what about Warner?

Warner will visit the Giants in the near future, but he is in a much different situation than Testaverde. He's trying to save his career, not finish it. What he wants is an opportunity to play again and a one-year deal to showcase his talents. Imagine if three years ago I told you Warner would settle for a $1 million audition deal and Brunell would get a contract worth $6 million per year! Hard to imagine how things change. But that's my point about QBs nowadays.

What's the best situation for Warner? Go to a place like the Giants and hope to start as many games as possible early in 2004 before giving way to Eli Manning, or go someplace where the starter might not be on solid footing and start 2004 on the bench with the expectation that if and when the starter falters, he comes off the bench?

A team like Detroit has been mentioned or surely San Francisco could be a better situation for Warner, if they were interested in him. Structuring a contract for Warner is no problem at this time. He played so little in 2003 that any team could pile a ton of incentives into the contract that would not count against the cap. When looking at salary for a one-year deal, it's realistic to look at Jon Kitna's restructure in Cincinnati or -- even better -- Trent Dilfer's deal in Seattle.

A one-year contract for about $1.5 million is the right number considering Dilfer has a $1.25 million salary and a $2.25 million cap charge. Kitna converted his old $3.75 million salary for 2004 into a $2.375 million signing bonus and a $1 million salary this year with an extra year added for '05.

Who would have imagined Marc Bulger forcing out Kurt Warner only two years after Super Bowl XXXVI?

As for the Ravens, I often thought they would have been to another Super Bowl, or at least an AFC championship game, if they still had Dilfer on their team. A year from now, will the Ravens change their philosophy to more of a Redskins approach? For now, the answer appears to be no, but time will tell.

Out in San Diego, Drew Brees says he will compete for the starting job, which is what the franchise wants to hear from a young QB with a relatively cheap salary and some starting experience. With that offensive line, it might be wise for Brees to start early this season and bring Rivers along slowly.

One of the best situations is in Pittsburgh. Tommy Maddox has three years left on a contract that pays less than marquee backups like Dilfer and Kitna. If/when Ben Roethlisberger is ready to start, Maddox can be an excellent backup for slightly under $1 million a year. He might not want that role but if he looks around at Collins, Warner, and even Couch, he might realize Pittsburgh isn't that bad.

Green Bay still needs to put someone on its roster. It's too bad the Packers didn't draft a developmental type last month to learn from Favre, but they need someone young enough and talented enough to be there if Favre gets hurt. Still sounds like a good spot for Couch.

So, how many different types of quarterbacks are there in the NFL these days? That is a complex question not answered consistently by many people, but there are upward of 12 different classifications.

The Franchise Starter -- Will never leave the field unless carried off and will be the highest-paid player on his team ... Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, etc.

The First-Round Pick -- The future of the franchise, but untested and not ready ... Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, etc.

The Solid Starter -- Brings experience, production and could become a cap/draft casualty someday ... Brad Johnson, Rich Gannon.

The Victim of Circumstances -- Might have stayed as a starter but draft choice or salary cap got in the way ... Mark Brunell, Jeff Garcia, Kerry Collins.

Slipped And Fell From Grace -- A few bad games in a row, didn't meet early expectations, needs a new start ... Kurt Warner, Tim Couch.

Always Under Attack -- A guy who people try and replace the whole time they're in the NFL ... Jay Fiedler, Tommy Maddox.

Elite Career Backup -- A guy worth paying over a million to wear a baseball hat and be ready ... Trent Dilfer, Jon Kitna.

Backup You Really Never Want To Play -- A guy coaches like on the team but only in an emergency will he play, and not for long ... Todd Collins, Chris Weinke.

Backup Who Waits For Injuries To Get Work -- The perception is, "We should go to camp without him, but call when in trouble." ... Jeff Blake, Kordell Stewart.

Developmental Guy -- Someone the coaches think shows signs of being a starter someday but for now running the scout team ... J.T. O'Sullivan.

Old Guy/Coach -- A player who can run a meeting, spends time showing new kids the right way ... Vinny Testaverde, Jason Garrett.

Roster Mystery -- If I listed 10 of them, you couldn't tell me a thing about them. But they are on a roster ... Wallace, Doman, Lemon, Van Dyke, Dunn, etc.

To survive in this league a quarterback might assume eight or nine of these classifications throughout his career. Gannon has been Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and in no particular order.

Now Collins -- who came into the league as No. 2, quickly became No. 3, spent some time as No. 5 and worked back to No. 1 -- is at a crossroads. Some clubs see him as a 4. Some see 7. In the right situation, he can be a 3.

As one longtime personnel friend of mine said when I discussed my 12 quarterback classifications, "What a roller coaster ride NFL quarterbacks take. As long as they can hold on and realize the ride goes up as fast as it goes down, they can stay a long time."

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