Year of revived QBs gives Mitchell hope

On The NFL

January 10, 1999|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Scott Mitchell will get some inspiration today when he sees Randall Cunningham and Vinny Testaverde make playoff starts.

Mitchell, benched after just two games this past season by Detroit Lions coach Bobby Ross, knows he'll be wearing a new uniform next season.

He just hopes he'll be able to jump-start his career the way Cunningham and Testaverde did.

"Just seeing those guys gives you a lot of hope and belief that a lot of it's just getting in the right situation at the right time and going from there," he said.

Mitchell got into Ross' doghouse when he threw two ill-advised interceptions in the second game against Cincinnati -- the second one returned for the winning touchdown in overtime.

Ross then decided to go with rookie Charlie Batch and bypassed Mitchell for veteran Frank Reich when Batch got hurt.

"It's just all part of our life," Mitchell said. "All part of this experience. I don't know a player playing who hasn't gone through hard times or frustrating times, and I'm no different than anybody else."

He added, "I feel like I have a lot to offer and have a lot of football left in me to play."

Mitchell never lashed out at Ross for the benching. He never said anything more harsh than, "Just after two games, I have a hard time understanding that."

Mitchell hoped to be placed in the expansion draft for Cleveland, but the league -- which is always changing its rules -- now says that a team can't massage the cap number to make a player more or less attractive for the draft and then expose him.

The Lions adjusted his cap number for cap relief earlier this year before this ruling came out.

That means that unless the Lions can trade him -- and teams are reluctant to trade for players they know will be released -- Mitchell will have to wait until June 1 to look for a new home.

Ross, though, hopes the Testaverde comeback may convince teams to try to trade for Mitchell.

"I think one of the things that works to his benefit is what happened to Vinny Testaverde this year," Ross said.

Trade market

Another quarterback who might be on the trade market is the Minnesota Vikings' Brad Johnson, who lost his job to Cunningham.

Johnson has a cap number of $4.34 million next year, including a $2.75 million base salary, which is average for a starter but pricey for a backup.

Since the big money in Cunningham's new five-year, $28 million deal, which included a $5 million signing bonus, doesn't kick in until 2000, the Vikings could afford to keep both in 1999.

Owner Red McCombs said that's what the Vikings plan to do.

McCombs might just be trying to raise the price for Johnson, because the Vikings are certainly going to get offers for him.

When offensive coordinator Brian Billick gets a new job, he's likely to try to make a deal for Johnson.

Young zebra, old problem

The argument that the NFL needs younger officials took a hit in San Francisco last Sunday.

A second-year official, Keven Mack, had a perfect look at Jerry Rice's fumble in the final minute that should have ended the game.

But he froze and let seven-year veteran Jeff Bergman, the son of an official, make the bad call.

The incident will add another arrow into the quiver of the instant replay proponents, although league officials said replay wouldn't have changed the call because the whistle had blown.

Expansion draft

On Tuesday, all the teams except the four playoff survivors must submit their list of five players who'll be exposed in the expansion draft for Cleveland on Feb. 9.

The rules are that the list can include one player who was on injured reserve but has been cleared to play in 1999 and one player with 10 or more years of experience. No punters or kickers can be put on the list.

Teams are likely to expose players with high salary cap numbers that they want to dump. The Ravens' Michael Jackson, who has a $3.7 million salary cap number in 1999, probably fits in that category.

Bypassed again?

With former Philadelphia coach Ray Rhodes having a good shot to replace Mike Holmgren as the Green Bay Packers' coach, the number of black NFL head coaches is likely to remain at three. Dennis Green of Minnesota and Tony Dungy of Tampa Bay are the other two.

That means that Green Bay offensive coordinator Sherm Lewis, who apparently isn't moving up to replace Holmgren and has only one interview scheduled in Chicago, could be bypassed again even though he has five Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach.

"You can get full of anger and hate, but I am not that type of person," Lewis said. "I've never been the type of person to blame things on race. I don't like to think that way. To me, I haven't gotten an opportunity because the NFL has been an old-boys network, and a lot of African-American coaches are not in that clique."

He added, "Friends tend to reach back and grab friends when they are filling jobs. Until we get more African-Americans as general managers or football operations guys, things aren't likely to change."

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