Sign of times: Quarterbacks in motion


The NFL's off-season quarterback merry-go-round finally stopped spinning this week.

When Elvis Grbac signed a five-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, he grabbed the last open starting quarterback job for this fall.

Although there are a few quarterbacks, including Heath Shuler, scrambling for backup jobs, the starting positions are set.

Starting quarterbacks are changing as quickly as coaches. There will be 11 new coaches this fall, and 12 teams will start quarterbacks who didn't get the shot on opening day last year.

Six of the newcomers moved up during last season -- Kent Graham in Arizona, Brad Johnson in Minnesota, Ty Detmer in Philadelphia, John Friesz in Seattle, Steve McNair in Houston, Tony Banks in St. Louis.

Five others changed teams -- Grbac, Jeff George in Oakland, Rick Mirer in Chicago, Chris Chandler in Atlanta and Billy Joe Hobert in Buffalo (assuming he beats out Todd Collins to replace the retired Jim Kelly). Another, Kordell Stewart, was promoted in Pittsburgh.

That leaves 18 quarterbacks returning as incumbents, including six who've proved they can take a team to the Super Bowl -- Troy Aikman in Dallas, Brett Favre in Green Bay, John Elway in Denver (Elway underwent shoulder surgery last week, but is supposed to be ready for the season), Steve Young in San Francisco, Drew Bledsoe in New England and Dan Marino in Miami.

The only other two starters who've gone to the Super Bowl are Stan Humphries of San Diego and former Steeler Neil O'Donnell of the New York Jets, although they're not rated with the top six.

The only one of the top six who was in any danger of losing his job this year was Young. The 49ers were impressed with the way Grbac played in 1995 when Young was injured and were thinking about committing to him as the team's quarterback of the future because Young will turn 36 in November.

But Grbac wasn't as effective last year when Young was injured, so the 49ers decided to stick with Young until he retires and let Grbac become the third straight ex-49er (after Joe Montana and Steve Bono) to step in at Kansas City.

Now, the 49ers no longer have a successor waiting in the wings the way Young was when Montana finished his career.

In the free agency era, though, teams don't have the luxury of stockpiling players.

San Francisco will worry about the future in the future.

Goodbye, Bill

When Bill Parcells was named New York Giants coach in 1983, one of his first moves was to bench Phil Simms for Scott Brunner.

Parcells quickly realized his mistake, and Simms not only became his quarterback, but also a Parcells booster. Simms will even be host of a TV show with Parcells this fall now that the coach is back in New York with the Jets.

Parcells never bonded the same way with New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe. When new Patriots coach Pete Carroll called his first voluntary team meeting, Bledsoe was quick to bash Parcells, complaining he never said goodbye to the team after the Super Bowl.

"From the get-go, Bill has been about Bill. That's the way it is. That's the way he is," Bledsoe said.

He also noted how Parcells got all the attention at the Super Bowl.

"We've got something to prove as a team," he said. "When we went to the Super Bowl, it was turned into a deal where it was Bill Parcells vs. the Packers. And at times, it was like this team was just Bill."

Look for the Patriots to have a good year just to prove they can win without Parcells. But the question is what happens after that under the easy-going Carroll. For example, Carroll didn't take roll at the meeting, but several players didn't show, including Terry Glenn, the wide receiver Parcells didn't want to take in the draft.

The players may not have liked Parcells, but he got results. Now, the Patriots have to prove they can do the same for a coach they like but may take advantage of.

Fighting the cap

In the latest chapter in the Ravens' salary-cap woes, they were nailed by the league last week.

When they sent in quarterback Vinny Testaverde's contract extension to the league office, they counted a $625,000 increase against the cap this year, the prorated share of his $2.5 million signing bonus over four years.

But league officials noted that the contract included $1.5 million in guaranteed money in future years. In renegotiated contracts, guaranteed money is counted as part of the signing bonus. So the league figured his contract as $4 million up front and boosted Testaverde's cap figure by $1 million this year.

Adding in $633,000 in cap money this year as part of Jeff Blackshear's three-year, $3.6 million deal with a $1 million signing bonus and a $550,000 cap number for Leo Goeas in his three-year, $2.85 million deal with a $600,000 signing bonus, the Ravens were left $4.2 million under the cap.

That's not much when they have only 34 players under contract. Only three other teams have fewer than 50 players signed -- Dallas has 42, the New York Jets 47 and the Houston Oilers 49.

With so few players signed, the Ravens don't have a lot of money left to improve their defense.

They've yet to sign a defensive player now that Brock Marion has flunked his physical, and they failed to land three defensive players they were interested in -- Broderick Thomas, Raylee Johnson and Ray Seals.

By going after Marion and his bad shoulder, they also let George Teague be lured to Miami by coach Jimmy Johnson.

This isn't exactly shaping up as a vintage off-season for the Ravens.

The long goodbye

Ravens owner Art Modell still has fond memories of Cleveland, even though he is reviled there for moving the Browns.

In an interview with the Akron Beacon-Journal that was published last Sunday, he said, "The greatest people in the world are Clevelanders. They gave me 35 years of friendship and love. I think I returned part of it to them by producing a pretty good product for many years."

He also called the Cleveland fans "the greatest fans in the world" and he asked the reporter, "Make me look good, OK?"

Pub Date: 3/23/97

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