Teams have learned a costly lesson this year in quarterbackonomics: Paying signal-callers big bucks doesn't make them big-time players. "What we did last year," says Giant general manager George Young, speaking of his NFL brethren, "is pay top dollar for guys who are just good football players. We have to come to grips with that and not throw our money away."
Young was speaking specifically of Detroit's Scott Mitchell (above left), who is making $6.4 million in salary and bonuses this year, and Chicago's Erik Kramer (above right), who is pulling down $3.1 million. Last winter both were free agents who were given huge deals before they had proved themselves to be anything more than competent. Mitchell and Kramer combined to win five games and lose nine to start the season, throwing 18 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions. In Week 10 Mitchell suffered a season-ending hand injury; Kramer, meanwhile, was benched. The Lions are playing better offensively with grizzled Dave Krieg at the controls, and the Bears are steaming toward the playoffs with backup Steve Walsh running the show.
In addition to Detroit and Chicago, three other teams began the season with new quarterbacks acquired through free agency: Indianapolis, with Jim Harbaugh; the Rams, with Chris Miller; and Washington, with John Friesz. In most of the five cases, the backups—Krieg, Walsh, Don Majkowski of the Colts, Chris Chandler of the Rams—have performed better than the starters. Friesz has a slight edge over Gus Frerotte in Washington, but overall the numbers are revealing.
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