The New York Giants have decided to take a giant risk with troubled free agent quarterback Kerry Collins.
The Giants Friday signed Collins to a four-year contract worth $16.9 million, including a $5 million signing bonus.
According to Collins' agent, Leigh Steinberg, the deal was completed by general manager Ernie Accorsi at about 6:10 p.m. EST at the site of the NFL scouting combine.
The first year of the deal is salary cap-friendly with a base of $400,000. With the pro-rated signing bonus, the salary cap hit for 1999 would be $1.65 million.
To make room for Collins under the cap, New York likely will release quarterback Danny Kanell, who lost the starting job to Kent Graham last season and is scheduled to earn $2.9 million in 1999.
"Kerry will compete for the starting job in New York and he's thrilled to have the opportunity to play for the Giants," Steinberg said. "Three teams contacted Kerry, but he wanted to play in the east."
After appearing in the Pro Bowl and leading the Carolina Panthers to the NFC championship in 1996, Collins has encountered problems on and off the field. He gave up his starting job with the Panthers last year and subsequently was waived. Then he was arrested on driving while impaired charges after signing with the New Orleans Saints.
Collins, 26, was released by the Panthers on October 13 after he told then-coach Dom Capers his heart no longer was in football. Although Collins later denied it, backups Steve Beuerlein and Shane Matthews confirmed that Collins said he requested to be benched.
The Saints claimed Collins the following day, but he was arrested on November 1, hours after he was booed mercilessly in his return to Carolina. He apologized for the incident and got his first start for New Orleans on November 15, leading the Saints to a 24-3 victory over the St. Louis Rams.
But Collins failed to win over coach Mike Ditka, who decided not to make an effort to re-sign him. With the Panthers and Saints, he completed only 48 percent of his passes (170-of-353) for 2,213 yards with 12 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
Collins' struggles started in 1997 when he offended some teammates by using a racial epithet during training camp and rumors began to circulate that he had a problem with alcohol abuse. He went on to lead the led the league with 21 interceptions and finished last in passing efficiency.
Collins, the Panthers' first-ever draft pick in 1995, has 51 touchdown passes and 64 interceptions in his four-year career.
Kanell, 25, would become the second young quarterback cut loose by the Giants in three years. Kanell's emergence during the 1997 season enabled the team to release Dave Brown. With Kanell as the starter, the Giants went 9-2-1 and won the NFC East title.
But the former Florida State star struggled last season and was relegated to the bench after a 3-7 start. Kanell completed 53.5 percent of his passes (160-of-299) last season for 1,603 yards with 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Under the 30-year-old Graham, New York won five of its last six games and mounted a late challenge for a wild card playoff berth. He is to enter the final year of a two-year contract worth $2.2 million.
Collins is not the first person with a questionable background to join the Giants. Two years ago, they picked up defensive tackle Christian Peter, who was arrested in college for urinating in public and third-degree sexual assault.