Collins connects with Raiders

Three-year deal likely to sack Gannon

Former Giants quarterback Kerry Collins is headed cross-country, from one 4-12 team to another. One month after Eli Manning turned Collins into the Giants' quarterback of the past, Collins becomes the centerpiece of the Raiders' attempted revival.

He has decided to accept Oakland's offer, a three-year deal, sources told the Daily News yesterday. The agreement should be finalized this week and is expected to lead to Oakland releasing Rich Gannon, the 2002 NFL MVP. Collins picked the Raiders over a backup job with the Ravens, where former Giants coach Jim Fassel is now a consultant.

Gannon is 38 years old, is coming off shoulder surgery that ended his '03 season after seven games and is due a base salary of $7 million this season. The word is Gannon is not agreeable to a salary cut, which may cost him his job as Oakland was just $75,000 under the salary cap at the end of last week.

Although the Raiders still may attempt to keep Gannon at a reduced salary and let him compete with Collins, that seems like a longshot. Clearly, the Raiders are not signing Collins for him to sit on the bench.

Collins is seven years younger than Gannon and has a stronger arm that would allow the the Raiders to play the vertical passing game preferred by owner Al Davis. Collins also gets to play for new Raiders coach Norv Turner, one of the best in the NFL at working with quarterbacks.

The Raiders would have selected Manning with the second overall pick in the April 24 draft - if San Diego had not taken him first and then traded him to the Giants. So, Collins will have Iowa rookie tackle Robert Gallery blocking for him after all. It will just be with the Raiders instead of the Giants.

The Giants wanted to keep Collins after trading for Manning on draft day. But he rejected their attempt to restructure the final year of his contract, although he would have been paid the $7 million he was due.

Collins recently visited the Raiders and 49ers on a trip to the Bay area and last week canceled a visit to Green Bay, apparently because he was close to a deal with Oakland.

In the end, it came down to the Raiders and Ravens. Baltimore got into the derby last week after it learned backup QB Anthony Wright needed shoulder surgery. But the Ravens wanted Collins as a backup to Kyle Boller and offered him a one-year contract.

That would have allowed Collins to go into the free agent market next March, probably as the No. 1 quarterback available. Although Ravens coach Brian Billick changes quarterbacks often, meaning Collins could have been the starter when the Ravens play the Giants on Dec. 1, Oakland offered a better deal: more money and a starting job.

Considering it was almost May when Collins started looking for work, he came out of this in good shape. The Giants are expected to sign Rams quarterback Kurt Warner after he is cut by St. Louis next week and have him on the field in time for their June 7 minicamp.

The Raiders won four games just one season after getting to the Super Bowl. They should be improved after an active offseason that included the signing of Warren Sapp and the drafting of Gallery.

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