Collins, Raiders look like perfect marriage

It is hard to call Rich Gannon the wrong quarterback for the Oakland Raiders. For that matter, it is hard to say that he would be a bad quarterbacking fit on most teams in the NFL.

When Gannon is healthy and on his game, he still can be highly effective. When he is in a groove while operating the West Coast-style, horizontal passing game that suits him so perfectly, Gannon can perform as well as any quarterback in the league. He can put up staggering numbers. He can lead a team to the Super Bowl, as he did with the Raiders a couple of years back.

But the Raiders no longer are a good fit for Gannon. The horizontal passing game Jon Gruden molded around Gannon's precision, patience and deft touch during Gruden's four-year stint in Oakland and that Bill Callahan kept in place through the 2002 and 2003 seasons is gone. The Raiders have a new coach, Norv Turner, and a new offensive coordinator, Jimmy Raye. They are back to the more vertical type of throwing that has long been the signature of their owner, Al Davis.

In short, the Raiders are a much better fit for Kerry Collins, whom they signed.

Collins is 31 years old. He has a stronger arm than Gannon, who is 38. He has better accuracy on deep passes than Gannon. He has everything the Raiders could want in a quarterback to run an offense that won't be bashful about going for the quick strike.

Gannon needs the scheme that he had -- the scheme many other NFL teams run, where the quarterback mostly is working with shorter and safer passing options. Don't worry about the 20-yard throw if the receiver is open at five yards, because that receiver open at five yards can produce a nice gain as well. With Gannon, success is all about proper timing and developing a perfect rhythm. Just pitch and catch. Keep the chains moving.

The Raiders don't do that anymore. They are returning to their deep-throwing roots. And they are looking to Collins to bring a younger, fresher and healthier brand of quarterbacking to a club that has been aggressively trying to build itself back to contender's status. Like Gannon, Collins has a Super Bowl appearance on his resume, but the New York Giants wanted a fresh start of their own and, therefore, traded for Eli Manning last month after San Diego made him the top pick of the draft.

For all intents and purposes, Collins should not have been available. Had he accepted a pay cut, he could have stuck around to help with Manning's NFL indoctrination and, quite possibly, maintained his starting role for some if not all of the 2004 season.

Collins wanted no part of it. Surprisingly, there weren't many teams clamoring for his services, but it only took one to offer the right situation. And for Collins, the situation probably doesn't get a whole lot better than what he found in Oakland.

The Raiders cornered the market on offensive- and defensive-line beef in making behemoth offensive tackle Robert Gallery the second overall pick of last month's draft and acquiring a hefty pair of defensive tackles in Warren Sapp and Ted Washington.

Now they have a beefy arm to take advantage of couple of big-play threats in receiver Jerry Porter and tight end Teyo Johnson, whom Oakland's decision-makers would be absolutely thrilled to see develop the same sort of rapport that Collins had with Amani Toomer and Jeremy Shockey in New York.

To say Gannon's future in Oakland looks bleak would be an understatement. He is recovering from shoulder surgery after a season that saw him spend more time watching than playing, raising the legitimate question of whether more unhealthy years are ahead. Reportedly, he also has been reluctant about accepting a pay cut.

Collins' arrival would seem to make Gannon's departure likely after June 1, when letting him go would have less of an impact on the Raiders' salary cap. But let us not be too quick to simply toss Gannon aside as some sort of worthless has-been, because nothing could be further from the truth.

Gannon gave the Raiders some superb seasons. He was the right quarterback at the right time in their not-so-long-lost days in the postseason hunt.

True, his intensity, at times, is over the top. He would never hesitate to challenge teammates or even coaches if he felt they were not in step with his constant pursuit of perfection. It hardly made him the most popular player on the team, but in the long run it probably did more good than harm. Gannon made everyone around him feel a sense of accountability to play or coach at his best.

He can help another team. By all accounts, his shoulder has not seemed to bother him during offseason drills.

He is a fighter. He has the will to find success elsewhere, if that is what it comes to. And, in the right scheme, he has the skill to do some damage. I don't know if he can have the type of season he enjoyed in 2002 when he was the NFL's MVP and set a league record for completions while throwing for an NFL-best 4,689 yards. However, he can, at the very least, make a solid contribution.

And the Raiders have reason to believe they have the right quarterback for their new-old offense.