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NY Times: Free-Agent Quarterback Market Awaits First Signal


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Free-Agent Quarterback Market Awaits First Signal

By THOMAS GEORGE

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/22/sports/football/22NFL.html

Kerry Collins has rejected a contract offer from the Oakland Raiders, but their pursuit continues.

The Baltimore Ravens, who this week discovered that quarterback Anthony Wright had a torn labrum, began discussions yesterday with Kordell Stewart.

The N.F.L.'s quarterback lot keeps churning.

If Collins signs with the Raiders, that could ignite a flurry of activity among teams seeking veteran quarterbacks from the large group expected to be released June 1 when N.F.L. teams cut players primarily for salary-cap reasons. Of the veteran quarterbacks expected to be released — including Kurt Warner of St. Louis, Tim Couch of Cleveland and Vinny Testaverde of the Jets — Collins, 31, is considered the best combination of relative youth, good health, arm strength and recent success.

Not surprisingly, Mark Bartelstein, the agent for Warner, disagrees.

"Kerry Collins is a terrific quarterback, but Kurt is only 32 years old and a two-time league M.V.P.," Bartelstein said yesterday in a telephone interview from his office in Chicago. "Normally around this time of year, there are a lot of 39- and 40-year-old quarterbacks available. Kurt is in his prime."

Bartelstein said that Warner, who will turn 33 on June 22, had "talked to a bunch of people and teams," but that Warner did not want to talk about specifics out of respect to the quarterbacks already on those teams. Bartelstein admitted, however, that Warner's recent visit to the Giants was "terrific, as good as it could be; they bounced things off him and talked about the system."

Warner's recent visit with the Giants persuaded at least one person that Warner's much-discussed hand, finger and concussion injuries in recent seasons were not an issue.

"We have the best doctors in the league, and our staff feels that Kurt Warner is in excellent shape with no concerns," said Ernie Accorsi, the Giants' general manager. "He obviously has the credentials and has a pretty startling record."

When asked if the Giants' recent claiming of quarterback Kurt Kittner off waivers changed their plans to pursue a veteran quarterback after June 1, Accorsi said: "Not at all. My feeling is you never have enough quarterbacks, and if you can stockpile them, you better do it. We've been living with a false sense of security with Kerry and the fact that he was so healthy for us for so long. I've said many times that maybe the second-most important position on your team is the backup quarterback."

Many teams agree, but they all have to deal with the salary cap. And everyone is well aware that the last Super Bowl featured a sixth-round pick (New England's Tom Brady) and an undrafted rookie free agent (Carolina's Jake Delhomme) at quarterbacks.

Collins, Stewart from Chicago and Jeff Blake from Arizona are already free agents, and the top quarterbacks expected to be released June 1 are Warner, Couch and Collins, with Rich Gannon in Oakland and Brad Johnson in Tampa Bay also on shaky ground.

The teams expected to lead the shopping for veteran quarterbacks are the Giants, Oakland, Dallas, Baltimore, Chicago and possibly Tampa Bay and San Francisco.

Gannon, 38, the 2002 league most valuable player, is scheduled to earn $7 million this season after missing much of last season because of a torn labrum. He presents an interesting choice for the Raiders or for a team that might want to reach for him if he becomes a free agent.

"Was last year a fluke or did he hit a wall?" said a Raiders executive who requested anonymity. "If we knew we were getting the same Gannon who was healthy and could regain his top-notch form, his salary is not a big number. But this is not a young guy, he's coming off a shoulder injury and he did not play well before the injury. Given the situation, given what we know right now, his salary is too high. And he is not the kind of guy who would want to go and groom somebody else; he's a fighter who wants to play."

That attitude would not bother Accorsi, who said that the draft's No. 1 pick, Eli Manning, whom the Giants acquired from the Chargers, would benefit from such a situation.

"You want fighters, you want competitors," Accorsi said. "We want to win. You want a veteran quarterback who could come in and show you he is the best guy, the best starter right now."

Couch appears headed to Green Bay despite the snags in their talks over his insisting on a one-year contract that would give him freedom to move if Brett Favre returns for the 2005 season. Warner seems to be headed for the Giants. Testaverde would be the Giants' second choice, but he appears to be leaning toward Dallas. If Tampa Bay cuts Johnson, a reunion in Baltimore with Brian Billick, who was his offensive coordinator in Minnesota, is not unimaginable.

"There are a finite number of slots here and once the first guy signs, the dominoes will fall," the agent Leigh Steinberg said. "We're in a whole new tableau where security and long-term stability for teams at quarterback is being assaulted with Super Bowl-, Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks being cut when not long ago they were untouchable. It is a striking trend. It's all about the cost-efficient quarterback now."

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Good one, Bubba.

I would really like to see Kurt Warner succeed again in the NFL. He seems like a really good guy. But if he comes to the NFC East, I'm afraid I'll have to root for his head to get knocked off. He's too much of a threat at this age, I believe.

Also interesting about the Ravens situation. They may wind up w/ a much better QB than they have had.... uh.... well, actually EVER.

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