Ex-Giant fits team better than Gannon

When the Raiders make official the signing of Kerry Collins sometime this week or next, incumbent quarterback Rich Gannon could consider the move a slap in the face. He shouldn't.

He should feel free, however, to consider it a vote of no-confidence.

And if Rich Gannon the competitor doesn't understand this, Rich Gannon the businessman certainly should.

It's pretty simple, really. Collins is a considerably lower risk, with greater potential for a higher reward.

While both have quarterbacked teams to the Super Bowl -- Gannon two seasons ago with the Raiders, Collins four seasons ago with the New York Giants -- Collins, by reasonable expectations, gives Oakland a better chance to compete for a championship in 2004.

He is a better fit for the vertical offense favored by new head coach Norv Turner, new offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye and owner-for-life Al Davis.

Collins has a stronger arm than Gannon and is more accurate throwing downfield -- something the new staff would like to utilize more often.

Collins is 31 and coming off a typically healthy season; Gannon is 38 and coming off shoulder surgery.

And Collins likely won't approximate the kind of power-drill intensity Rich brings to the huddle, the sideline, the locker room, the meeting room and, for all we know, the bathroom.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing insofar as Gannon's intensity wore out more than a few of his teammates.

Another factor in Collins' favor is that he has expressed more eagerness to work for a lower salary, which surely endears him to Raiders executive Mike Lombardi, the man assigned to negotiate salaries and navigate the salary cap.

The significance of this can't be underestimated, especially in light of Gannon's stated unwillingness to accept a pay cut from his $7 million salary for'04.

This being the Raiders, though, money is not the primary motivating influence.

When they invited Collins to town two weeks ago, some wondered if it was a ploy to make Gannon reconsider his no-pay-cut stance. Not a chance. Al doesn't operate this way with free agents outside the AFC West.

More likely, offensive coaches met with Collins to discuss strategy issues, Lombardi met with the quarterback to discuss financial issues and Davis met with Collins to look into his eyes and assess the vibe.

Evidently, they all liked what they saw, heard and felt.

So did Collins.

It was enough to prompt the Raiders to talk contract, which led to the three-year deal, for roughly $12 million, to which Collins reportedly has agreed.

What does it mean for the offensive unit? That Turner and Raye, who prefer primarily vertical pass routes to the mostly horizontal routes run under Jon Gruden and Bill Callahan, have a quarterback made for their scheme.

Turner's ideal is former Dallas great Troy Aikman, a big, physical presence who zipped balls through the seams created by vertical routes. Collins fits the bill.

Collins established strong connections with his best receivers in New York, one being wide receiver Amani Toomer and the other being tight end Jeremy Shockey.

Oakland's Jerry Porter offers a size/speed combination similar to Toomer, and young tight end Teyo Johnson can match Shockey's athleticism if not his established ability to produce.

Most any quarterback benefits from having Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, but Collins is more likely than Gannon to maximize the talents of receivers with the skills possessed by relative youngsters Porter and Johnson.

This is not to suggest the Raiders will provide Collins with a road map to the Hall of Fame. They can't make him what he isn't, and Collins has all the dynamic mobility of, say, New England's Tom Brady.

Put another way, Collins lacks the kind of mobility Gannon used to have.

Gannon's elusiveness was one of the reasons he was recruited to Oakland five years ago. He was one of the NFL's faster quarterbacks, and he excelled at making positive plays while on the move. Gannon's dual-threat ability drove defenders nuts.

But those days are gone. Rich has lost a step, maybe two, and he knows it. As do those same defenders who once feared his legs.

This shortcoming was disguised so well by Callahan in 2002 that Gannon was able to win the MVP award despite signs of physical decline. He passed his way to success.

But it's a new staff, with new ideas. Ideas not necessarily tailored to Gannon's strengths.

While Rich was the sharpest passer on the field during the team's minicamp last month, he'd still have to be considered a longshot to lead the Raiders into the playoffs, which begin shortly after he turns 39.

Does Gannon deserve better? Probably. But that's not how the NFL works. Ask Rice, the all-time leader in receiving. Ask Emmitt Smith, the all-time leader in rushing. Ask Bruce Smith, the all-time leader in sacks.

Ask Kurt Warner, former league MVP and former Super Bowl MVP, soon to be cut by St. Louis.

Gannon was one of the best things to happen to the Raiders. He brought an unmatched level of commitment and he set a daily example by working harder than anybody else.

But change is constant, and this is an obvious time for the Raiders to make a change.

Since acknowledging his own destructive immaturity and confronting alcohol abuse, Collins has been mostly good, if rarely spectacular.

Turner and Raye hope to get a little more out of Collins. Maybe his best, which I'd have to think is a safer bet than trying to get the best of Gannon.