More than passing interest in QBs marked by failure

ON THE NFL

Pro Football

February 16, 2003|By KEN MURRAY

Failure to elevate their teams will send Kordell Stewart, Jake Plummer and eventually Brian Griese into the free-agent market this winter.

Because there are so few capable quarterbacks available and because there are so many teams that need them, Stewart and Plummer figure to command center stage once free agency begins Feb. 28.

Already straining at the leash are the Denver Broncos, Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys, all desperate for a new offensive leader.

What's clear in an era when recycled quarterbacks have become stars and even Super Bowl winners is that you don't have to have a franchise quarterback to win it all anymore.

Never mind that Stewart couldn't get a potent Pittsburgh Steelers team to the Super Bowl two years ago, that Plummer couldn't get the Arizona Cardinals over .500 more than once in six years, and that Griese couldn't get the Broncos over the playoff hump in his four years as starter.

They all will get another chance somewhere else next season. A new coach, a new environment and a new offense will often do wonders.

Stewart, who lost his job to Tommy Maddox, will be cut shortly. Griese, who became the scapegoat for Denver's collapse this season, will be cut after June 1 for salary cap benefits.

Plummer's contract is up, meanwhile, and he has fallen so far that the Cardinals won't waste their franchise tag on him even though the next-in-line is Josh McCown, a third-round draft pick in 2002 from Sam Houston State who has yet to throw a pass in the NFL. They've offered Plummer a chance to compete with McCown next summer and nothing more.

In six seasons, Plummer threw 24 more interceptions than touchdowns and had 22 more losses than wins. Arizona never saw a return on a $15 million signing bonus it gave him after the 1998 season, so he's gone. And the Cardinals will be fishing from the same free-agent pool they dump him into.

Diversity slow in coming

Even with the league's newly formed diversity committee watching hawklike and attorney Johnnie Cochran threatening lawsuits, only one of five head coaching openings went to a minority this offseason. That was Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati, a good hire.

Despite the outcry over the Detroit Lions' hiring of Steve Mariucci - another good hire - the big miss was in San Francisco, where the 49ers chose Seattle Seahawks reject Dennis Erickson over Ted Cottrell, defensive coordinator for the New York Jets.

The 49ers appear to be in disarray. Erickson's vertical offense doesn't mesh with Bill Walsh's short-pass, West Coast system, and, as Mariucci found out, Walsh doesn't like to be ignored. It was the fourth time Cottrell was a serious candidate for a head coaching job without getting the call.

Around the league

The Cardinals are expected to use their franchise tag on high-maintenance wide receiver David Boston but will entertain trade offers, much as they did with cornerback Aeneas Williams two years ago. ... What does this say about Carolina's offense? The Panthers might use their franchise tag on All-Pro punter Todd Sauerbrun, who led the NFL with a 45.5-yard gross average. That would be a first since free agency started in 1992. Sauerbrun made $650,000 last season and wants a deal that starts in the $1.7 million range. As the franchise player, he would get the one-year tender of $1.471 million. ... Thinking that age finally may have caught up with 41-year-old punter Sean Landeta (Towson State, Loch Raven), the Philadelphia Eagles are getting ready to give him the boot. They signed free agent Dirk Johnson last week. Landeta ended this season on injured reserve with a torn calf. The Eagles are also contemplating dumping Pro Bowl kick returner Brian Mitchell (34). Interesting moves for a team on the cusp of a Super Bowl. ... Speculation about the Cleveland Browns shopping quarterback Tim Couch is rampant. A Cleveland talk radio station even had the Browns trading him to Chicago for Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher, which would never happen. But the Browns did sign Pat Barnes from the Canadian Football League's Ottawa Renegades, and may be looking for a backup to Kelly Holcomb. Couch has a cap number of $7.95 million next season.

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