Depth chart for star quarterbacks takes serious hit

ON THE NFL

June 11, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

San Francisco quarterback Steve Young didn't want to risk another blow to his head, but he dealt a blow to the NFL when he decided to retire last week.

On the heels of John Elway's retirement a year ago and Dan Marino's departure at the end of last season, Young's retirement means the NFL has lost three of its marquee quarterbacks in the past year.

It's not as if the NFL has a cornucopia of replacements waiting in the wings.

There's a short list of glamour quarterbacks left in the league. The two-man list starts with Troy Aikman and ends with Brett Favre.

There's a drop-off after those two players in terms of marquee value.

The next list includes Kurt Warner and Steve McNair, last year's Super Bowl quarterbacks who've yet to prove they can do it over the long haul, Drew Bledsoe and Mark Brunell, who have been outstanding at times, but have only one Super Bowl appearance between them, and Peyton Manning, who should be a future star.

For the future, there's the six young guns drafted in the first two rounds last year - Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, Cade McNown, Daunte Culpepper and Shaun King. All figure to start this year, but it's too early to tell whether they'll make it big.

That's why the league will miss Young. His retirement was the prudent move because there was no point in him risking another injury.

The league not only loses a star attraction, but it means that Denver, which hoped he grab him for another Super Bowl run, will be just another team this year with Brian Griese at quarterback.

The league can only hope that some of the youngsters develop quickly into the next generation of stars.

Injury-prone

Charlie Batch, the Detroit quarterback who broke his tibial plateau (the flat part of the tibia that supports the knee) in a freak accident in practice last week, says he will be back for the regular-season opener.

But the Lions have to worry if he's injury-prone. He broke his lower back in the 14th game in 1998, suffered a bruised right arm and a broken bone in his right thumb last year, then re-injured the thumb in the season finale and missed the playoff game in Washington.

His injury leaves journeymen Mike Tomczak and Steve Stenstrom and young Cory Sauter as the Lions' quarterbacks, unless they sign another.

Role model

An Iowa state trooper named Sgt. Randy Jones is under investigation for giving Warner a break. After stopping Warner for going 74 in a 55-mph zone, Jones gave him a warning and asked Warner to go back in front of his squad car and wave to the camera so he could prove to his son that he had stopped the Rams' quarterback.

According to a state police spokesman, it is policy to ticket a driver going 19 mph over the limit.

But Jones called Warner a "role model to young people" and added, "I know about the obstacles he has faced in life and about his strong religious background and what kind of person he is. And I know there are a lot of people who will say [giving the warning] was not right, but that's what I did."

Meanwhile, Warner's denying reports that he'll be a training-camp holdout if he doesn't get a new deal to replace his $358,000 tender offer.

"I'm not even thinking about that. I'm thinking about coming in and playing in training camp, and that my contract will be done by that point," he said.

Notice he didn't say what he'd do if the contract isn't done.

Missing Brian Billick

Randall Cunningham, who signed with the Cowboys after being cut by the Vikings, said his downfall in Minnesota started when Brian Billick left to become the Ravens' coach.

"God blessed me to be in that situation with him [in 1998]. God knew it would take somebody like him to bring out the best in me," Cunningham said. "That was my best season, ever. For him to leave after our second year together, it was a tough situation. He contributed to me playing so well. ... I'm telling you, I think if Brian had been there with me last year, I don't think I would have been sitting down.

Quick hits

Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin publicly denied rumors recently that he's interested in the Notre Dame job for the second time during the off-season. "I have no interest," he said. The rumors have been so persistent that Coughlin apparently thinks that he has to deny them. A Jacksonville columnist wrote that Coughlin will be the Notre Dame coach next year but just doesn't know it yet.

Steelers coach Bill Cowher said of the Ray Lewis situation, "It's a lesson for everybody. We all talk about it. You're not only accountable for what you do, but who you're with. There's a lot of guilt by association, and in today's world, we should all understand that."

Bengals owner Mike Brown, let his daughter, Katie, negotiate Peter Warrick's $42 millon deal and then joked about his frugal reputation by saying, "I was not involved in the negotiating. Maybe that's why it went quickly and easily."

Andy Reid, the Philadelphia coach, doesn't seem impressed by all the hype about the players Washington has signed in the off-season. When he was asked if Deion Sanders' signing had widened the gap between the Eagles and Redskins, he said, "I never said there was a gap."

Dallas only has 10 players left from the team that beat Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl after the 1995 season.

Quotable

"I heard Larry Bird say the other night that until you've been to the NBA Finals, you don't know what being an NBA player is. People have told me the same thing about being in the Super Bowl. It's like having a kid. People can explain it all they want, but until you've had one, you don't know what it's like."- safety John Lynch, on Tampa Bay's quest for a Super Bowl appearance.

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