Broncos waiting patiently for Elway

On The NFL

May 10, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The Denver Broncos sent a message to John Elway last week that their welcome mat for him is still out.

The Broncos quarterback was in Disneyland on vacation when the team had its minicamp, but coach Mike Shanahan didn't complain about his absence.

The Broncos even left the usual place open for Elway during their stretching drills. Shanahan wants to give Elway all the time he needs to decide if he wants to play and hasn't set a deadline for him to make up his mind.

"There is no time frame," the coach said.

Last year, Shanahan welcomed left tackle Gary Zimmerman back on Sept. 9 after he pondered retiring. Zimmerman is undecided again this year and was the only other player to miss minicamp, but if Elway returns, Zimmerman also is likely to come back.

If Elway doesn't return, shopworn veteran Bubby Brister will become the starter. Even Brister wants Elway back.

"For us to win a Super Bowl and repeat, we have a lot better chance if John is here," he said.

Brister's teammates don't envy his burden if Elway doesn't return.

Former Ravens offensive tackle Tony Jones said: "I wouldn't want any part of it. Some guys might see it as an opportunity. Not me. Those shoes are too big."

Elway probably hasn't made up his mind, but the odds are that he'll play. And not just because he deferred a March 1 roster bonus of $1.45 million for a year to give the Broncos more salary cap room.

A more important factor is that a vote is scheduled this fall on public funding for a new stadium for the Broncos. In the afterglow of their Super Bowl victory, the Broncos hope to win that vote. It's even leading in the polls.

But voters are becoming more skeptical of the idea of public funding for stadiums. Voters in Pittsburgh rejected the idea by a wide margin last fall and, just last week, there was a landslide vote in two North Carolina counties against a new baseball stadium.

If Elway retires and the Broncos start losing, the stadium vote will be a tougher sell.

Helping the Broncos get a new stadium could be one last legacy for Elway in Denver.

Negotiating time

Baltimore native Antonio Freeman may be having second thoughts about leaving the Green Bay Packers as a free agent at the end of this year. His agent has reopened talks with the team, and Freeman is talking about the possibility of staying.

"Some papers have taken my words out of context and made it seem like I don't want to negotiate with the Packers. That is not true," Freeman said. "I'd love to live in that area. I'd love to be with the Packers. Green Bay is a place I want to be."

Freeman, who would have to play for the $1.153 million tender this year as a restricted free agent if he doesn't sign a long-term deal, wants to match the five-year, $21 million deal that Yancey Thigpen got from the Tennessee Oilers.

Freeman, who turned down a four-year, $11 million deal, said there's a value to staying in Green Bay.

"I don't want to have to relocate and redo all those hassles of starting over," he said. "If you knew you could play in one place your entire career, I think every guy in the NFL would choose to do that." Five years after Baltimore was scorned in the expansion derby, the manner in which the city was treated in that process may wind up being a court issue.

That's because former New England Patriots owner Victor Kiam is suing the league for $450 million because he says he was forced to sell the team in 1992.

Kiam said the league told Baltimore and Jacksonville officials not to talk to him when he called those cities about moving the club there before the expansion process, and he claims that the NFL demanded he sign a release letting the league off the legal hook.

A federal judge in New York ruled recently that Kiam can go to trial next year on the issue of whether the release was legal.

One of the witnesses is likely to be Herbert Belgrad, the head of the Maryland Stadium Authority during the expansion process. He broke off talks with Kiam back then at the league's request.

Though Baltimore failed to get an expansion team, Belgrad said he has no ill will toward the league since the city got a team when the Browns moved here.

"We achieved our objective, but not in the way we wanted," he said.

But Belgrad said he still has all his notes and will testify about what happened if he's called on.

"Facts are facts," he said.

And those facts are likely to help Kiam.

Trickle down

The NFL is awash is prosperity these days, but one group -- the assistant coaches -- doesn't believe it is sharing in the benefits.

Since they tend to view themselves as management, the assistants have been reluctant to go public, but they have quietly formed an organization in the past two years and hired a Philadelphia labor lawyer, William Wallen.

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