When the smoke clears from the draft

The draft is over and the reality of the decisions made over the weekend now take center stage. For all the fanfare and speculation that surrounded the Eli Manning saga during the draft, the first shock wave involved the Chargers. The second shock wave involved Kerry Collins.

No one can fault the Giants for grabbing Manning because they believe he will become a player like his brother -- a franchise quarterback. Did they pay too much? Only if he isn't a star in a few years. If he is a "Manning" then no one will remember what the compensation was to get him. The carnage from the pick is Collins, who will be released soon.

The Giants were looking long range on the decision when they orchestrated the draft-day trade to get Manning. Whatever Manning becomes, he will do it as a Giant. Coaches will come and coaches will go, players will retire, the salary cap will force players to leave, but Eli still will be in New York.

If he needs time to develop, he will learn on the job. If he needs time to win over his teammates, he'll do it as the starter ... ready or not. If he needs to thicken his skin to deal with the pressure of New York, he better hurry up.

But this isn't about Manning -- there will be plenty of time for that and I believe he has a chance to be a great one. But it is time to look at Collins. He will not be in a Giants uniform this season, and there a few things to consider when discussing the 10th-year veteran.

Could you say there are 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL in 2004? Of course not, so he will have a job in this league. In a quick poll of coaches and front-office people, he ranked around 15 to 18 among the 32 starters.

Is he too old to invest in? Collins was born in 1972. Brett Favre (1969), Jeff Garcia (1970), Mark Brunell (1970), Trent Green (1970) and Rich Gannon (1965) are just a few good quarterbacks in the NFL who are older than he is. Collins regularly plays all 16 games without injury and usually throws more than 500 passes in a season. It's safe to say if a team is looking for a quarterback who will throw about 20 touchdown passes and over 3,500 yards, here he is.

The future of Kurt Warner, Tim Couch and possibly Vinny Testaverde are now directly tied to Collins. Collins is in the last year of his contract, so there is no reason to wait until June 1 to cut him. The Giants gain no cap advantages by doing that, while the Rams, Browns and Jets can spread the cap damage out over two years by waiting to cut their signal-callers.

Collins should be first on the market, and his numbers over the past three years suggest he's the top option. The other three spent time on the bench this past season.

Most people who studied the Giants feel Collins' problems this past season were caused by an inexperienced offensive line and an injured Jeremy Shockey. As one Giant said to me, "I sure hope we don't have to play against him next year." They might just play against Collins this year or in the following years.

I asked a few people who have worked with Collins in the past and they all believe he has five years left in his body. That means he could actually play the length of a contract. Garcia didn't go to the Browns until he was 33. Gannon didn't go to the Raiders until he was 35. Brunell got his Redskins contract when he was 33. Brad Johnson joined the Bucs when he was 33. Two of these guys led their new teams to the Super Bowl at an older age and with less previous production than Collins is bringing to the table. So where does he fit?

He sure looks like a fit in San Francisco, but they apparently are committed to Tim Rattay and claim they aren't interested. I remember when I was with the Jets, we decided to move on without Ken O'Brien much like the 49ers are doing with Garcia. In 1991 we made the playoffs with an 8-8 record and O'Brien at quarterback. The next year we convinced ourselves that Browning Nagle needed to start. We went 4-12 and the inexperienced young man recorded seven touchdowns and 17 interceptions.

Arizona really wants to see what Josh McCown can do, but they might take a long look at Collins. I believe the Ravens -- with Jim Fassel on the staff, their defense and running game -- would be preseason Super Bowl contenders with Collins under center. Kyle Boller will be a fine quarterback someday soon, but the veteran players like Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware would be excited if Collins showed up. Tampa took a look at Garcia this offseason and would have to consider Collins. Oakland seems like a natural spot for the guy who is seven years younger than the present starter and healthier. Norv Turner loves the play-action passing game and he has promised more deep passing -- that is Collins' game. Add when you consider Oakland's offensive line now has Robert Gallery and Jake Grove, it makes sense.

But a place I would keep an eye on when Collins is set free is Dallas. I'm pretty sure they have had their eye on Testaverde, who will be free after June 1, but this is a whole different deal. Can you imagine the Cowboys coming into New York to play the Giants with Collins at the helm? Sean Payton is the assistant head coach in Dallas and has a good relationship with Collins from their time together in New York. Their young quarterback, Drew Henson, will not be ready in 2004. And how long do you think Bill Parcells wants to wait around to get the winning started? As one NFC coach said to me, "They went 10-6 last year, and if they get a repeat performance by everyone with the addition of Collins, Julius Jones and Keyshawn Johnson, they have a chance at 11 or 12 wins."

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