Slash and burn
Kordell Stewart working harder than ever, but still no offers to play QB
Posted: Tuesday May 4, 2004 2:04PM; Updated: Tuesday May 4, 2004 2:11PM
Now that the NFL Draft is history for another year and the fresh quarterback talent has scattered about the landscape, Kordell Stewart walks around waiting for his cell phone to ring. Is he nervous? Nah. The ego remains robust in a healthy kind of way, but Slash has never gone so deep into the offseason without a job. Never felt so unwanted.
Welcome to the daily tribulations of an unemployed QB. On a recent morning, Stewart dropped into Velocity Sports Performance in Roswell, Ga., for one of his three-day-a-week training sessions with NFL veterans Shannon Sharpe [Broncos], Tyrone Poole [Patriots] and Ken Irvin [Vikings]. Stewart has been without a team since the Bears released him on March 1. As you might expect, the conversation eventually steers toward where he's headed.
This is the same question pondered by Kerry Collins, who was put on the street last week by the New York Giants, and one that Kurt Warner may soon face in St. Louis. Long-term contracts obviously don't come with much security in the NFL, not even for playoff-caliber quarterbacks.
If things work out according to plan, Stewart says he could hook up with Sharpe in Denver, even though the Broncos took seventh-round fliers on LSU's Matt Mauck and local favorite Bradlee Van Pelt of Colorado State. Or he could be headed to Buffalo, despite the Bills' use of a first-round pick on Tulane's J. P. Losman. Buffalo is still shopping for an experienced backup, and Stewart has ties to general manager Tom Donahoe and first-year head coach Mike Mularkey from his Pittsburgh days.
Both AFC clubs flew him in for recent visits, and Slash speaks confidently of a decision being only days away.
But no matter what happens, this is pretty traumatic stuff if you've never had to wait to play football. A pay cut is probably in store. And for the first time since her arrived in Pittsburgh as a second-round pick almost a decade ago, Stewart won't be in play for the starting job.
Backup quarterback? Damn, Stewart hunkers down at the mere mention of it.
"I will never -- how can I say it without sounding bold or anything? You don't have to accept it, but you understand it,'' he says. "I'm a competitor from the beginning to the end. As of right now, I am not on any football team. So being that that is the situation, I need to go in and perform if need be, be there to help spark the team in anyway possible.
"But no, no, I am a competitor, man. I'm not gonna stop competing. That is one thing ... I will compete until I can't do it no more. Till my body, soul and mind won't allow me.''
So he works harder than ever. Lifting, running, throwing. Breaking into five-step drops as Sharpe clings tightly to an elastic belt fastened around the quarterback's waist. Sweating through two hours of agility and explosive drills under the watch of conditioning guru Jon Crosby.
Stewart has been going through variations of this offseason ritual since moving to Atlanta five years ago to be closer to his girlfriend, then a local college student. The couple has an 11-month-old son Syre Ahman Stewart. But during all those years he was assured of a job in Pittsburgh and last season Chicago. Now, he talks about uncertainty and fear, of "trying to put all my blocks in the right place'' so he might eventually re-establish himself as a starter.
Like any ego-driven quarterback, he stews over the turn his career has taken since he directed the Steelers to the AFC Championship Game in 1997 and 2001. He fancies himself the model for Michael Vick and other multi-talents who've followed. Ask if he ever wonders what might have been had he chosen to put his talent to work as a receiver and he shoots a disgusted look.
"No, because the same things I've had struggles with every other quarterback is having,'' says Stewart, 31. "Because I played the wide receiver position I will never lower my standards just to play that position. Brett Favre has been through hell over high water. Kerry Collins has been through hell over high water. Peyton Manning has thrown more interceptions than anybody could think of throwing interceptions when he first came in the league. He's had his opportunity to win and this is his first time making it to the playoffs, and now he is considered one of the great quarterbacks in the league.
"I've gone to two AFC Championships and here I am sitting. So if you really want to compare I guess it is all what they call perception and what people like. Peyton has probably thrown for 4,000 yards every season, but I've had the opportunity to go to two AFC Championships, play wide receiver -- did that well. Have pretty much done what I wanted to do in this league so far.
"I can play. I don't know if people don't want to accept it, but that is what I am -- a quarterback. I'm not gonna beat myself up cause I can run faster than half of [the receivers] out there. I can't help it.''
No, Slash is pure quarterback. And so, like the other out-of-work signal-callers, he waits for that one phone call.
Mike Fish is a senior writer for SI.com.