The QB market will get busy soon

Most of the significant player reshuffling has been completed in the NFL offseason. But there will be a few more notable moves made before coaches and executives scatter next month for a few weeks of vacation before training camps open, and most of those remaining high-profile transactions will involve quarterbacks.

About a dozen teams remain in need of help at quarterback, and former starters such as Kerry Collins, Kordell Stewart and Jeff Blake are on the free-agent market. Kurt Warner and Vinny Testaverde likely will be available in June, and former top overall draft choice Tim Couch probably would join them if he's not traded by the Cleveland Browns before then.

"Your backup quarterback might be the second most valuable player on your team," New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi said by telephone Wednesday. "It's a fascinating thing that goes on in this league this time of the year. That veteran who's been around and knows how to play is a very valuable guy, and there aren't that many of them who are willing to be a backup."

The Giants are looking for a seasoned quarterback to mentor top overall draft pick Eli Manning, who's slated to start after being acquired by Accorsi in a draft-day trade with the San Diego Chargers. The Giants released Collins last week after he refused to rework a contract that would have paid him $7 million next season, and were rebuffed Monday when Neil O'Donnell informed them that he would remain in retirement.

The Giants have worked out free agent Damon Huard, and agent Ralph Cindrich says that Blake, the Arizona Cardinals' starter last season who was released in February, would be happy being Manning's NFL teacher. But the Giants probably will wait until June, when a group of players will be released by teams that want to defer portions of the salary-cap hits for those moves until the 2005 season. Testaverde probably will be released by the New York Jets and could be considered by the Giants, although many executives around the league believe he will rejoin coach Bill Parcells in Dallas. Warner said on an appearance on NBC on Sunday that his agent has received permission to talk to other teams in anticipation of his release next month by the St. Louis Rams, and he has received interest from the Giants, 49ers and Chicago Bears.

"With four quarterbacks drafted in the first round and one in the third round, that's probably an indication there's going to be some moving around," Accorsi said. "There will be some musical chairs. It'll probably all be triggered by one signing, and then everything will fall into place. Now, with O'Donnell deciding to stay retired, we most likely will sit tight for a while and see what happens."

The first dominoes to fall probably will be Couch and Collins. The Green Bay Packers have been trying for weeks to negotiate a new contract with agent Tom Condon and Couch as a precursor to a trade with the Browns. The Bears inquired about Couch last week and could be among the front-runners to sign Collins, along with the Raiders.

Few, if any, teams acknowledge that they have a starting job -- or even the opportunity to compete for a starting job -- available at this point. The Bears say they're going with youngster Rex Grossman as their starter. Ditto for the Baltimore Ravens with Kyle Boller and the Cardinals with Josh McCown. The 49ers say they're content with Tim Rattay, and the Raiders say they aren't overly concerned about the health of veteran Rich Gannon. But those involved in the process say there are better opportunities than coaches and executives are willing to admit in an era in which the job security for starting quarterbacks in the NFL is becoming almost as tenuous as that of head coaches.

"We are seeing some things happen to incumbent starting quarterbacks that are just unprecedented," veteran agent Leigh Steinberg, who represents Stewart, said Wednesday. "They're going from solid starting status, Pro Bowl status, to being waived with lightning speed. Jeff Garcia went from contract-extension talks (with the 49ers) to being cut. With Kerry Collins, it wasn't, 'Oh, he had a bit of a rough season.' It's, 'He's waived.' It's stunning. It's a fundamental change in the way that starting quarterbacks are treated in this league, when that's supposed to be the position where you promote stability."

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