"This is part of the plan, to play him in spots late this year," Fisher said last Saturday. "And next year he becomes Number 2, with Chris Chandler Number 1 until Steve wins the job. We will not put pressure on Steve McNair."
Unfettered free agency in the NFL is now three years old, which is enough time to draw this conclusion: Big money doesn't translate into big performance. Around the league, general managers say that beginning in 1996 they will be far less willing to offer $3 million-plus annual salaries, either to free agents or to their own players who are thinking of jumping ship. That's bad news for the top free agents of '96, like Charger defensive end Leslie O'Neal, Steeler tackle Leon Searcy, Dolphin guard Keith Sims and Cowboy safety Darren Woodson.
You don't have to be a general manager to know that the Dolphins, with eight expensive free-agent signees on their roster, are fighting to stay above .500, or that the surprising Eagles are making a playoff run with a roster largely made up of inexpensive veterans no one else wanted.
While the verdict is not yet in on cornerback-wide receiver Deion Sanders—who has shut down opposing wideouts but has done nothing on offense for Dallas in return for a seven-year, $35 million contract—disappointments abound in this year's free-agent crop.
"You have to be so careful when you're spending big money for a player," says Charger general manager Bobby Beathard. "You've got to watch who you sign, and how he'll handle the expectations and the big money. Too many guys get the money, and you never hear from them again. In football, I still believe you've got to keep guys worried and hungry."
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]