It hurts, but Raiders should cut Gannon

Al Davis always has clung fiercely to the two-way concept of loyalty. It is one of the guiding principles of his ownership of the Raiders. It's very clearly one of the reasons so many of his current and former employees are willing to go to the mat for him repeatedly, no matter how many times the man appears to pick his own fight. Rich Gannon is one of the bright lights of Davis' recent tenure. Gannon is the quarterback who came to Jon Gruden's system late in his career, yet helped the young coach develop an offensive juggernaut that carried Al's franchise to its first Super Bowl in nearly 20 years.

Davis prizes loyalty. Gannon is staggeringly deserving of it. And that is why the Raiders have to buck up and do the painful, but obvious, and cut Rich Gannon loose next week.

I'm having a hard time envisioning a $7 million backup quarterback, and that is essentially Gannon's future if he is to remain in Oakland. New delivery Kerry Collins - stronger-armed, seven years younger and about $5 million cheaper this season - is the guy. It's no use pretending otherwise, no matter what comes out of coach Norv Turner's mouth this week.

Turner values the vertical passing game and a big-back system, and while we'd need another full column to discuss how he's going to get there with Tim Brown and Jerry Rice as two of his top three receivers, he has the QB he wants in Collins. The New York Giants' folly is Oakland's gain.

But there is a price to be paid in this transaction beyond the checkbook, and Gannon is it. The Raiders, from Davis on down, owe Gannon enough to acknowledge that fact before moving on.

It was painful listening to Turner try to smiley-face the situation, insisting several times that Gannon is the starter and Collins the backup. Listen, Collins is 31. He's no kid. He is a Super Bowl quarterback. He doesn't need mentoring.

This is no Marques Tuiasasopo scenario, in other words, with Gannon returning from a serious shoulder injury at age 38 to try to get through the season - at a huge salary-cap number - while grooming his eventual successor. The Raiders have their successor. No grooming necessary.

And they need to reckon with that, and with Gannon. I can't imagine Al Davis doing anything less for a player who really was front and center in the franchise's finest moments since relocating from Los Angeles in the '90s.

Everything about Gannon appeals to me as a football watcher. He is enormously competitive; he's got an ego that won't quit; he seldom shrinks from the most important moment. The Raiders' hideous drubbing by Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVIII reflected badly on Gannon, but it shouldn't have; it was really a case of Bill Callahan and his staff getting routed by Gruden and his staff in the planning and strategy stages.

For all those reasons, 2003 was an especially ignoble time. Not only was Gannon reduced to clipboard-carrying status by the shoulder injury, but he came across as more surly than driven, more intractable than simply determined. When he essentially refused to renegotiate his salary number in the offseason, he set into motion this current business.

Still, he is owed. He deserves an up-front sendoff. And if that includes a last-ditch chance for Gannon to hook on elsewhere, then better sooner than later.

Under league rules, teams can begin next Tuesday the process of cutting veterans and deferring for a year the salary-cap impacts of those players' signing bonuses. With Collins in the fold (and set for a total payout of $15 million over three years), Gannon is ripe for such a cut - and that's not all bad.

Releasing Gannon next week would allow him to contact, oh, I don't know, Gruden himself to see if the coach is in the market for a QB who really understands his system. Since Gruden took a run at Jeff Garcia a couple of months ago, one could assume that he isn't necessarily keen on standing pat with Brad Johnson.

There could be room for Gannon to strike a deal.

That's speculative, of course, but it may be better than what awaits Gannon in Oakland: one week after another of constant buzz over who should be the starting quarterback. Competition is almost always a good thing, but not when the deal is rigged. The Raiders already know what the answer eventually will be.

Almost no one wants to say it out loud yet. Turner made Gannon the nominal starter; Davis called Gannon to say his status was secure, here in May. Only receiver Brown, whose bluntness shouldn't always be confused with the truth, was more candid, telling ESPN radio, "At this point, it looks like it'll be Kerry Collins."

Indeed it does, and that's life in the food chain. But for what he meant to the Raiders after years of the franchise sliding sideways, Rich Gannon ought to be cut clean, with a warm handshake. He earned nothing less.

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