Panthers give Collins the boot

Kerry Collins quit as quarterback of the Carolina Panthers last week.

Now the National Football League team has quit on Kerry Collins, who in 1995 became the Panthers’ first-ever draft choice and who once was considered the heart of a franchise that came within one victory of reaching the Super Bowl in its second season.

Collins career with the Panthers -- now among the league’s worst teams at 0-5 -- ended Tuesday when the team dropped him from its roster after being unable to trade him by the 4 PM NFL trading deadline.

The decision to get rid of Collins came less than a week after he met with Coach Dom Capers and said that his “heart wasn’t into” his job and that he didn’t want to be the team’s starting quarterback anymore.

Capers revealed the request to the Panthers and to the media on the same day -- last Wednesday -- and the news sent shock waves through the NFL community, with players and analysts saying Collins’ action was akin to treason, while fans wondered how a highly paid player basically could say he was tired of working.

Collins, meanwhile, never spoke publicly about the incident.

“It was really a tough decision,” Capers said of the Panthers’ move Tuesday. “It was not a situation that we certainly wanted. But what transpired last week happened, and we felt we had to deal with it.

“I certainly don’t take nay joy in making this decision, because I’ve had 3 1/2 years through a lot of ups and downs, a big investment with Kerry Collins. But ... this was a decision we felt that we had to make.”

Capers informed Collins of the Panthers’ decision at 4 PM.

“I don’t think Kerry was surprised,” Capers said. “I think Kerry understands the situation. Hopefully, this will end up being the best thing for Kerry and the best thing for the Carolina Panthers.

Collins, a 25-year-old quarterback out of Penn State, can be picked up off the waiver wire in the next 24 hours, with the team that claims him picking up the remainder of his $1.153 million contract, which would be $746,000.

If he isn’t claimed, he will become a free agent and can negotiate with any team at any salary.

Collins and Panthers owner Jerry Richardson did not speak with reporters Tuesday, but congenial statements from both were issued through the team.

Collins expressed appreciation “for everything the Panthers’ organization did for me during my time in Carolina. ... I regret that things didn’t work out here, but I am certain the Panthers will enjoy great success in the years to come.”

Said Richardson: “Kerry Collins played a key role in the early success of the Carolina Panthers, and we appreciate those contributions. Everyone worked hard for Kerry and the team to be successful together, and I regret that it did not work out. It is now time to move forward for both Kerry and the Panthers.”

Capers, however, has been criticized by Collins’ agent -- Leigh Steinberg -- for his handling of the Wednesday meeting.

On Friday, Steinberg said Collins just “blew off some steam” to Capers and never intended for their conversation to become public record.

Steinberg reiterated his disappointment during an Internet chat session Tuesday.

“Kerry simply expressed a deep level of frustration with the losing performance of the Panthers,” Steinberg said. “This kind of complaining goes on every week throughout the NFL. It is safety valve in most cases for emotional athletes, for athletes with a passion for perfection.

“Kerry did not only not quit on the team, he hung in there the last 3 1/2 years, suffering a broken jaw, a broken nose, and leading a second-year expansion team to the conference finals.”

Collins helped the Panthers to a 12-4 record in 1996, the second season for both Collins and the Charlotte franchise. Carolina reached the NFC Championship Game but lost to the Green Bay Packers, who went on to win the Super Bowl.

Collins went to the Pro Bowl that year, and his future -- as well as the Panthers’ -- appeared bright.

Collins told fans after the Green Bay loss that it was the “beginning of a dynasty.”

But last season began with Collins suffering a broken jaw during an exhibition game. He also uttered a racial slur that infuriated teammates. Although he later apologized, some players never forgave him.

The quarterback struggled last season, as did the Panthers. He threw a league-worst 21 interceptions and had a 55.7 quarterback rating, the lowest among starters in the league.

The Panthers finished 7-9, well below expectations.

After that performance, the Panthers declined in the offseason to pay Collins a $6 million bonus that would have extended his contract another three years. After trying to trade Collins and failing, the Panthers signed him to a one-year contract for $1.153 million.

There was renewed hope this season that Collins and the Panthers would rebound.

They didn’t. The Panthers were 0-4 with Collins as quarterback, including a 51-23 blowout loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Collins deserved some, but not all, of the blame for the team’s record. He had eight touchdown passes but also five interceptions, and completed just 46.9 percent of his passes.

Still, the Panthers were committed to Collins. They offered a five-year contract reportedly worth $26 million in late September. The offer was declined by Collins and Steinberg.

Capers gave Collins a vote of confidence Oct. 5, a day after that 51-23 loss to Atlanta in the worst defeat in team history.

It turned out to be his last game as a member of the Panthers.

Perhaps fittingly, his last pass of that game, and of his career with Carolina, was intercepted.

Collins was unable to get to his locker after the game because cameramen were in the way. At one point he asked, “Can I get to my own funeral?”

Indeed, it was the end for Collins. Two days later, he appeared at Capers’ office door and asked for a meeting, telling the coach his “heart wasn’t into it.”

After Collins told other players about the conversation later in the day, Capers said he has no choice but to announce to the team and the news media why Collins no longer would be the quarterback.

Several players said that Collins had quit on his teammates, and that they had lost respect for him.

Collins was demoted to the third string, with Steve Beuerlein elevated to starting quarterback against Dallas this past Sunday. The Panthers lost 27-20 to drop to 0-5, with Collins left at home in Charlotte, deactivated from the team.

“The sadness of the situation is that it was a comedy of errors,” Steinberg said Tuesday. “And while I’m sure Dom and Jerry did their best in a difficult situation, it escalated out of control.”

The Panthers spent a week trying to trade Collins with no success, although Caper said he spoke with as many as 10 teams about a possible deal.

Still, Steinberg said he expects Collins to be claimed by another team during the waiver period. He could be in another uniform by the end of the week.

“I certainly wish Kerry well,” Capers said. “We’ve been through a lot of good, and some bad, over the last 3 1/2 years, and so I wish Kerry nothing but well.”
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