Worth the Risk
The self-centered Jeff George is too talented to be unemployed
A year ago the Bills locked up Doug Flutie with a piddling $50,000 signing bonus, the Ravens were on the verge of releasing Vinny Testaverde, and Randall Cunningham was planted on the Vikings' bench. Yet all three reclamation projects emerged as MVP candidates in 1998, took their teams (Testaverde was scooped up by the Jets) to the playoffs and filled half of the quarterback slots in the Pro Bowl.
So it's hard to believe that Jeff George, released last month by the Raiders—who opted instead for free agent Rich Gannon—has attracted next to no interest in a league starved for quarterback talent. Granted, George has sinned. Time and again. The first pick in the '89 draft, by the Colts, George was blessed with great arm strength and a hair-trigger release, but he was a big baby. During training camp in '93 he staged a 36-day holdout in an attempt to force a trade, a wish that was granted in March '94. George had two productive seasons in Atlanta, but after he was pulled from a game in early '96, he verbally attacked coach June Jones in full view of TV cameras. George was subsequently suspended, then waived.
But in his two years in Oakland, George committed only one untoward act. After he aggravated a groin injury last Nov. 29, George—having already missed all or parts of seven games—announced on a radio show that, with four games left, he was finished for the year. The Raiders, who were still fighting for a wildcard spot, thought that George might still return. (He backed off his statement the next day, and he came off the bench in Oakland's final game.)
Truth is, George has never been much of a leader. But in Oakland he was at least a team player who in '97 led the league in passing yards and the AFC in touchdown passes. "It's been frustrating, trying to find a good spot for him," his agent, Leigh Steinberg, said last week at the NFL annual meetings in Phoenix.
Or any spot. The Eagles, looking for a veteran starter, signed the Packers' Doug Pederson, who has thrown 32 passes during a four-year career. "You see what happened with [ George] and June Jones, and you'd rather go with a guy who isn't a problem," says Philadelphia coach Andy Reid.
The Rams signed Trent Green, a hanger-on for five seasons until showing promise with the Redskins last year. "When I'm going to spend a lot of the owner's money, Trent's not as big a risk as Jeff," says St. Louis coach Dick Vermeil, who gave Green a four-year, $16.5 million contract.
The Saints will stick with the pedestrian Billy Joe Hobert, coming off Achilles tendon surgery. "Tell me," New Orleans coach Mike Ditka says. "What has Jeff George done?" ( George's career winning percentage is only .346.)
The Bears have Erik Kramer, who had knee and shoulder surgery in December, and the weakest set of backup passers in football, Moses Moreno and Jim Miller. Coach Dick Jauron says the team will leave no stone unturned in its search for a reliable veteran, yet Chicago has no plans to contact George. "He's never won," Jauron says.
The Giants handed Kerry Collins, the quarterback with the lowest passer rating over the past two years, a $5 million signing bonus. Ravens coach Brian Billick traded two draft picks to the Lions for free-agent disappointment Scott Mitchell.