Cut Gannon and let Collins carry load

To rival fans, Al must seem like some kind of Cap Capone. This move was the capper, copper.

Understand, Raiders owner Al Davis breaks no salary-cap rules. But he does play every system-beating angle, including talking stars into taking deals they often wouldn't consider anywhere else. This move might have been his most amazing.

But this one was too good for the Raiders' good.

Davis talked Kerry Collins, who turned down $7 million from the New York Giants, into taking no more than good backup quarterback money next season -- along with a back seat to Rich Gannon. Stunner: It now appears that Gannon and his $7 million salary will not be cut June 1, as sources around the league anticipated.

Davis could cover himself next season with two quarterbacks who have started Super Bowls -- or one too many.

Sure, Coach Norv Turner says he'll have ``open competition'' at quarterback. But it appears the game plan is to see if Gannon, coming off shoulder surgery, can turn back into the MVP of 2002. If he can't regain his confidence and consistency as he nears 39 -- or if he can't avoid injury -- the Raiders no longer will suffer a hopeless drop-off to Marques Tuiasosopo or Rick Mirer. In comes Collins, who has twice the cannon of Gannon.

In theory, Davis has the league's strongest quarterback insurance. Yet in this opinion, his insurance should be his unhedged bet.

In reality, Davis would be even better off with Collins and only Collins.

You have to admire Davis' loyalty to a quarterback who carried him to his first Super Bowl in 20 years. You have to respect an owner who is basically saying: ``Rich Gannon has earned the opportunity to show me he's still Rich Gannon. If he can, no way am I going to pressure him to take a pay cut.''

It appears that Davis believes Gannon will prove he's still superior to Collins for one last-hurrah season. Collins, 31, is the same age Jim Plunkett was when Davis signed him as a 49ers discard. Plunkett sat for a season, yet Plunkett needed time to heal a battered psyche before eventually winning two Super Bowls.

Collins doesn't.

Still, Collins agreed to the kind of unique deal that indicates he's perfectly willing to carry a clipboard for a season. According to a league source, Collins received a signing bonus of only $1.6 million, and his first-year salary will be only $660,000. Yet he's guaranteed a total of $8.23 million for his first two years, and he's scheduled to make almost $8 million (which isn't guaranteed) in his third.

So that deal says backup in Year 1, starter in Year 2 and starter in Year 3 if you've convinced the owner you're worth that kind of money.

Sweet deal for Davis, except for this: Gannon is shot, physically and psychologically.

Surely a small part of Davis' pride doesn't want to cut Gannon and watch him save Tampa Bay's season for ex-Raiders coach Jon Gruden and ex-Raiders general manager Bruce Allen. But the odds are much better that Gruden would realize three or four games into the season what Allen surely saw last year in Oakland: Gannon has hit the wall.

Besides, Turner ultimately will be no more comfortable with Gannon's dinking and dunking and bellyaching than he would be wearing a Broncos jersey on the Raiders' sideline. Collins fits Turner like the Dallas Cowboys headphones once did. Collins will remind Turner a little bit of the Troy Aikman he coached for four years.

Aikman was a more accurate mid-range dart-thrower, but Collins launches a sweeter deep ball. Turner loves to use the run to set up the home run. The little extra unorthodox cock at the top of the 6-foot-5 Collins' delivery creates the NFL's most effortless velocity.

Kerry Michael Collins can get as somewhere-over-the-rainbow hot as any quarterback I can remember -- big-game hot. Against Minnesota in the NFC title game, he hit 23 of 34 for four touchdowns and 338 yards in the first half. At Candlestick in a January 2003 playoff game, Collins passed the 49ers silly for 2 1/2 quarters. Tight end Jeremy Shockey dropped a short pass in the back of the end zone that would have extended the Giants' lead to 42-14.

But of course, the 49ers made a 39-38 miracle out of that mess. And Collins went as cold in the Super Bowl as he was hot against the Vikings, throwing four interceptions. Collins can be psychologically fragile. He can lose concentration and confidence as quickly as he can throw an inexplicable ``pick.'' He can get a little cross-eyed and thick-headed.

So could Aikman before Turner turned around his career. Turner is a much better quarterback coach than a head coach. Turner became a big brother to Aikman, simplified the game for him, created a comfort zone around him, kept him loose but locked in and made him believe he had Super Bowl MVP ability.

He could do the same for Collins -- if Collins became his sole pet project between now and the season opener. Instead, Turner will be tailoring his offense to Gannon's fading strengths.

Davis wouldn't hesitate to bench Gannon if he goes south. But why wait? Why not thank Gannon for all he has done, let him go and spend some of his $8.9 million cap charge for 2004 on a much-needed receiver who might be cut June 1?

Collins has proven to be unusually durable. Maybe the ``insurance'' wouldn't need any.

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