Big names behind center could be headed out door

ON THE NFL

January 12, 2003|By KEN MURRAY

Money talks and players walk in the NFL. For a variety of reasons, most of them having to do with losing, there could be some surprising names dumped into the available quarterback pool this off-season.

At least three quarterbacks who were starters at the beginning of the season appear destined for new ZIP codes in 2003. Two more former golden boys could be gone, as well. Here's the roll call, from most likely to leave to least likely, with career records in parentheses.

Kordell Stewart (47-31), Pittsburgh Steelers: Stewart had an MVP-type year in 2001, but lost the AFC championship game at home and apparently front-office confidence, as well. He lost his job in Week 5 to Tommy Maddox after still another erratic stretch. The Steelers aren't going to pay Stewart his $6.3 million salary in 2003 to be a backup. He'll probably be released.

Brian Griese (27-24), Denver Broncos: The fallout over missing the playoffs and a 3-5 second half starts with Griese. He was as good as gone after losing a Week 16 showdown in Oakland. His career in Denver was undistinguished, but also symbolic of the contract mistakes coach/czar Mike Shanahan has made. Shanahan gave Griese a $12.6 million signing bonus after the 2000 season. Griese will be released after June 1.

Jake Plummer (31-53), Arizona Cardinals: It's unlikely the Cardinals will attempt to re-sign Plummer, a free agent, after another disappointing season. Plummer threw for 90 touchdowns and 114 interceptions in six years. He will command a big contract on the market, but needs to go to a good coach who can correct his many bad habits.

Tim Couch (19-32), Cleveland Browns: There's a very good chance the No. 1 pick in the 1999 draft will stay in Cleveland next year. But after Kelly Holcomb threw for 429 yards in a wild-card loss, even Couch was conceding the obvious. "The way [Holcomb] performed ... would make any starting quarterback nervous," he said. Especially one who never looked like the first pick in the draft, wilts at home and is due $6.2 million next season. Holcomb should be the starter next season; Couch could be elsewhere.

Kurt Warner (40-16), St. Louis Rams: Hard to believe a two-time MVP could be available, but that's where things are headed in St. Louis. There are still bad feelings left from when Warner's wife attacked coach Mike Martz's credibility over an order for X-rays. Warner told a reporter he'd rather move to another team than be a backup in St. Louis. Martz said he would consider trading Warner, but that the quarterback would have to restructure his contract to allow it to happen. It would have to happen quickly. Warner is due a $6 million roster bonus at the end of February.

Mix and match

So who's going to be chasing these available quarterbacks? Assuming the Ravens try to re-sign mistake-prone Jeff Blake, two AFC teams - Cincinnati and Denver - need new starters, and five NFC teams are in the market.

Arizona, Carolina, Chicago and Washington are desperate, and it's possible that new Dallas coach Bill Parcells will decide he wants someone other than Chad Hutchinson or Quincy Carter.

Whom can you trust?

A bad year for NFL officials got worse in the wild-card round. At least the NFL owned up to the egregious error at the end of the San Francisco 49ers' win over the New York Giants, when a blatant pass interference call was overlooked.

But there still is no accounting for the boondoggle on a muffed punt in the Green Bay Packers' 27-7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta's Kevin McCadam drove Green Bay's Tyrone Williams back into teammate Eric Metcalf, who signaled for a fair catch. The ball hit McCadam, but the official ruling was that it hit Williams and was recovered by the Falcons.

Packers coach Mike Sherman asked an official on the field about the play and was told it was not reviewable. Later, officials said it was reviewable and that Sherman was not told it wasn't. Obviously, someone isn't telling the truth. And Sherman is one of the most honorable coaches in the game. The play was huge because Atlanta scored a touchdown off the turnover for a 21-0 lead.

Scattershooting

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