Quarterback Kerry Collins once was considered the future of the Carolina Panthers.
Now the question is: Does he have a future with the team?
Collins shocked the Panthers on Wednesday by taking himself out of the starting lineup, telling Coach Dom Capers in a morning meeting that he “felt like he’s disappointed the team somewhat” and this his heart wasn’t “into it.”
Capers immediately named veteran backup Steve Beuerlein, who has not played this season, as the starter for Sunday’s game at Dallas, and promoted third-stringer Shane Matthews to the No. 2 job.
Collins will be listed a the team’s emergency quarterback, meaning he can be used only if Beuerlein and Matthews are injured during the game.
Asked if Collins is quitting on the team, which is 0-4, offensive lineman Frank Garcia said: “yeah, you know he is. That’s a hard think for me to say, but he is. He’s quit on us. He jumped ship. But if that’s the best decision for him, I’ll support him in that decision, and ... move on.”
With the move, Collins’ position of leadership on the team was seriously compromised, perhaps irreparably damaged. Asked if Collins could lead the team again, Garcia said: No, not effectively. He may be able to come in and play, but will people respect him as a leader? No.”
Garcia wasn’t the only player to voice that opinion.
“From a player’s standpoint, you want a guy you know is always going to be into it regardless of what happens or what the situation is,” fullback William Floyd said. “If we were 4-0, would it be the same situation? I don’t think so. Guys are going to look at that, and I don’t think they’ll have the same confidence from everybody if he came back to be the starter.”
Capers said it was too soon to know if Collins, the team’s first-ever draft pick in 1995, could return as a starter. But asked if Collins could be traded or released, Capers said: “I wouldn’t close any options right at this point in time ... With the trade deadline being next Tuesday, I would say that’s probably highly unlikely.”
Capers said he could meet with Collins again today., Capers said he always has told his players that it they aren’t’ totally committed to their jobs, they could tell him.
Until Wednesday, no one had taken him up on his request.
Collins, who did not speak with the media on Wednesday, has quarterbacked the Panthers to a winless record and has been booed at Ericsson Stadium, although the 0-4 mark is not all his fault.
Nevertheless, the majority of Collins’ statistics have dropped from week to week, his completion rate going from 56.8 percent against Atlanta in the opener to 44.1 against New Orleans to 37.7 vs. Green Bay.
In a 51-23 embarrassment at Atlanta last week, Collins completed 52.6 percent (20 of 38) of his throws -- for 302 yards and three touchdowns -- but many of those numbers came when the game was out of reach. He also three two interceptions and lost one fumble.
For the season, Collins has completed 46.9 percent of his passes (76 of 162) for 1,011 yards and eight touchdowns, with six interceptions.
Still, Capers praised Collins earlier in the week and said he had no plans to switch to Beuerlein until Collins appeared at his office at 8 AM Wednesday.
“This was totally unexpected,” Capers said. “He just he felt like he’s disappointed the team somewhat and felt like, with where he was right now, with is heart not being into it, that he was letting guys down on the football team. And that was the essence of what he said. I certainly appreciated his honesty in coming in and talking about that with me.”
Capers said he thought Collins had been making positive strides.
“I’ve sensed him being excited about coming in, excited about what he’s doing,” Capers said. “That’s why it surprised me when he came in today.”
Collins told fellow quarterbacks of his decision during their position meeting, but the rest of the players were baffled when Beuerlein took every snap during practice and didn’t learn of the decision until after practice, when Capers addressed the team.
“We all thought he was joking,” Beuerlein said of Collins’ announcement at the quarterbacks meeting. “Obviously, he wasn’t. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anything quite like this.
“He really thinks he’s doing the right thing. I don’t think you can perceive that as being a quitter. If we were 4-0, would we be in this situation? I don’t know. We’re 0-4. He comes up with this. Take it any way you want it. It’s a baffler. That’s all I can say.”
It’s also baffling given his contractual status. Collins, 25, was to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, meaning he had incentive to prove his worth to the Panthers and the rest of the league.
Collins’ future with Carolina was an issue after last season, when the team declined to pick up an option to extend his contract three more years for a $6 million bonus.
The Panthers’ decision came after Collins finished last in the NFL with a 55.7 quarterback rating and threw a league-high 21 interceptions. Collins was shopped to other teams but later agreed to a one-year contract for $1.153 million.
If Collins had a strong year, he could have commanded millions from the Panthers or another team. Carolina also could have made Collins their “franchise” player, thus retaining his rights by paying him the average of the top five quarterbacks in the league.
Now it’s difficult to predict if other teams will want to trade for or sign a player who took himself out of the lineup when his team was struggling.
The Panthers’ future also is a question.
Beuerlein, 33, is a 12-year veteran and a solid backup who has started 53 NFL games, going 26-27 for the Los Angeles Raiders, Dallas Cowboys, Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals, Jacksonville Jaguars and Panthers.
Beuerlein has passed for 11,953 yards and 67 touchdowns with 57 interceptions, and through last season had a career quarterback rating of 75.1, compared with Collins 65.3.
In seven starts for the Panthers over the past two season, Beuerlein has a 4-3 record.
He said he is confident he can help the Panthers win, and showed that attitude during practice on Wednesday.
“I just tried to loosen it up a little bit,” Beuerlein said. “I said there’s a new sheriff in town and we’re going to get this thing moving in the right direction.”
Floyd said the Panthers will run behind Beuerlein “like a bunch of wild and crazy deputies.”
“I think it’s a motivator,” said Floyd, an ex-49er, “I played against Steve in ‘96, and he just led that team like he’d been in there 16 years.
“You respect a guy like that. Plus, he’s an old wily vet who’s going to look you in the eyes and say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get the job done.’ You need a leader who always has his wits about [him].”
Beuerlein said he thinks teammates respect his businesslike attitude at Wednesday’s practice.
“I basically said all that I expect out of you guys is to give me everything you’ve got and you know I’ll give you everything I’ve got,” Beuerlein said. “You trust me and I trust you, and this thing will come around.
“This team will be ready to play on Sunday. I’ll stake my body on that.”
Thursday, Oct. 8, 1998