Stewart is biggest of free-agent busts

ON THE NFL

Nfl Week 8

October 26, 2003|By KEN MURRAY

Talk is cheap, contracts are expensive and hope springs eternal in the offseason. But bliss didn't last long for the Jacksonville Jaguars, San Diego Chargers or Chicago Bears, thanks to some dubious free-agent decisions that backfired before the halfway point of the season.

The Philadelphia Eagles knew better than to commit big bucks to keep aging defensive end Hugh Douglas last offseason. The Jaguars took a big bite, though, and now have to swallow a $10 million contract.

The Arizona Cardinals showed prudence as well as their typical frugality when they declined to retain wide receiver David Boston. The Chargers leaped into the Boston sweepstakes - blindly, it turns out - and wound up with a headache.

The Pittsburgh Steelers knew it was time to part with quarterback Kordell Stewart last winter. Missing out on Jake Plummer, the Bears hired him to lead them out of a maze, but Stewart has instead led them down another dark tunnel.

Stewart heads our list of the five worst free-agent buys in 2003.

1. Stewart, Bears: His two-year contract wasn't a big payout (only $4.75 million), but the nine-year veteran couldn't keep his job past five games. Stewart's passer rating of 56.0 is ahead only of the Eagles' Donovan McNabb among league starters. Coach Dick Jauron admitted last week it wasn't Stewart's sore leg that got him benched, but his ragged performance.

2. Boston, Chargers: San Diego was the first and final stop on Boston's free-agent tour. The Ravens were spared a tough decision. The Chargers gave the five-year veteran a seven-year deal that voids to five, with a first-year guarantee of $12 million. That's a lot for a receiver who doesn't like to play hurt, refused to work with the strength coach and was suspended one week because of his behavior.

3. Douglas, Jaguars: At 32, Douglas figured to have at least another good year or two left, but he's been virtually invisible since getting an opening-week sack. His five-year deal really is for two years and $10 million. Given the Jaguars are in a rebuilding mode, the signing of Douglas - and free-agent linebacker Mike Peterson - appears foolish.

4. Cornerback Tyrone Williams, Atlanta Falcons: Williams left the Green Bay Packers for a $3 million signing bonus with the Falcons but was suspended one game after a tirade against a member of the staff. He got benched last week for giving up on a 69-yard touchdown pass and doesn't look long for Atlanta.

5. Kick returner Brian Mitchell, New York Giants: He'll make $1.255 million in the first year of a four-year contract. The 35-year-old veteran is well below his career averages in kick and punt returns and has failed to rejuvenate the Giants' return teams.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Fisher strikes again

Every now and then, Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher likes to deliver a playful jab to his fellow coaches. Of Brian Billick's Ravens offense, Fisher once said, "We're not expecting any dynamic field goals." When he beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville to go to the Super Bowl, he claimed ALLTEL Stadium as the Titans' second home.

Last week, Fisher was at it again. Taking with Tennessee reporters about today's game in Jacksonville, he said with a grin, "The big thing for us this week is that we just keep chopping wood."

It was an obvious reference to Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio's motivational ploy to bring an ax and tree stump into his locker room. The ploy backfired when punter Chris Hanson cut his leg with the ax and had to go on injured reserve. Said Fisher, "This is an SC [Southern California] thing, come on! Coach Del Rio and I go way back."

Del Rio failed to see the humor. Asked the difference between himself and Fisher, Del Rio said, "He's a little older and a little smaller."

Deuced again

After giving up an NFL-record 295 rushing yards to the Ravens' Jamal Lewis in Week 2, the Cleveland Browns surrendered 200 to San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson last week.

The last time one team allowed a pair of 200-yard individual rushing games was 2000. Two teams were trampled twice - the New Orleans Saints and the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys' head coach at the time was Dave Campo. Now Campo is the Browns' defensive coordinator.

Lateral revisited

Randy Moss' no-look, over-the-shoulder lateral to Moe Williams for a 59-yard Minnesota Vikings touchdown just before the half last week elicited these comments:

Moss: "It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing that only happens every so often."

Denver receiver Rod Smith, when asked if he'd seen a similar play before: "Yeah, on PlayStation."

And Williams, when asked what he yelled to Moss before the lateral: "Moss, Moss, Moss!"

Dead dog dying

How bad are the Atlanta Falcons? Here are two perspectives in the wake of their 45-17 loss to the Saints last week.

Said Saints tight end Boo Williams: "In the second quarter, as we started rolling, they just had a down look ... that sad look, that look of a dead dog. And once you've seen that, you just have to go for the jugular."

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