The Miami Dolphins took a promising young quarterback off the potential free agent market last week when they signed Damon Huard to a two-year, $2.1 contract extension. But teams looking to upgrade the most important position with veteran talent will have a fairly wide variety of choices after this season.
The best of the bunch will be Minnesota's Jeff George, who will be an unrestricted free agent unless the Vikings re-sign him. George is 5-1 as a starter since replacing Randall Cunningham and might be wise to stay where he is, considering the Vikings' system and receivers.
He's this season's best bargain with a salary of $400,000, a deal he accepted because of his reputation as a talented player who can poison a locker room. He has behaved under Coach Dennis Green, and is playing outstanding football for a team that was 2-4 and going nowhere before getting the job.
The emergence of Kurt Warner in St. Louis may cause the Rams to put former Redskin Trent Green on the trading block. Warner will be rewarded with a long-term, multimillion dollar contract, perhaps before the playoffs, and Green signed for $14 million before the season, so the Rams probably can't afford to keep both. San Francisco is said to be very interested in Green.
Detroit's Gus Frerotte is hardly hurting his chances after putting up nice numbers since replacing injured Charlie Batch. Detroit will go back to Batch as soon as he's healthy, perhaps this week against Tampa Bay, and may not want to spend the money to keep Frerotte.
Tampa Bay will have a tough decision to make on Trent Dilfer, who is out for the season with a broken collarbone. Dilfer came alive after being benched this season and led the Bucs to three straight victories. But Tampa Bay will wait to see how rookie Shaun King plays down the stretch before making a decision.
Cincinnati will say goodbye to Jeff Blake, knowing that its future will be in the hands of rookie Akili Smith. Blake, 29, is not that far removed from throwing for 7,446 yards and 52 touchdowns in the 1995 and '96 seasons and could blossom in another environment.
There are several older veterans coming on the market. The best is former Maryland star Neil O'Donnell, who played well in relief of injured Steve McNair during the first half of the season. Baltimore probably will cut Scott Mitchell and Minnesota may say goodbye to Cunningham despite signing him to a $25 million contract last year. Both players played dreadfully this year and may not be in demand.
Other possibilities: Buffalo's Rob Johnson wants out of his contract and the Buffalo Bills may oblige; Jim Miller showed flashes for the Chicago Bears until his steroid suspension last week; Kent Graham of the New York Giants likely will be made available; and Rick Mirer, a major bust with the New York Jets, may also be with another team, his fifth, if you're counting.
Davis Makes Charges
NFL owners meeting in Atlanta last week listened to Oakland Raiders managing partner Al Davis and his legal representatives contend that Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, outgoing league president Neil Austrian and as many as 50 other league employees were being illegally compensated.
But several owners, including Pittsburgh's Dan Rooney, got up and denounced the charges, offering their full support to Tagliabue, who is celebrating his 10th year as commish. The owners apparently agreed with Rooney, voting by a 28-0 margin on two resolutions to dismiss Davis's charges.
Davis and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones abstained on the two resolutions, one to take league action on the charges, the other to sue Tagliabue. Seattle President Bob Whitsit, representing owner Paul Allen, left before a vote was taken.
Davis is trying to make the same case in court. He's got a lawsuit against the league that has been sealed by a San Jose, Calif., judge until Davis could appear before the owners. The Raiders could be back in court on the suit early next year.
Longtime Dolphins observers say they can't remember the last time veteran quarterback Dan Marino lost his cool in public the way he did storming out after a 90-second postgame news conference following his team's loss to the Colts on a last-second field goal on Sunday.
He was also taken to task by long-time Miami Herald sports columnist Edwin Pope for describing the fourth and ultimately final question he was asked as "ridiculous." Pope wrote it "wasn't true, because if people weren't interested in the answers to these questions, Marino wouldn't have made millions of dollars doing what he does."
By the way, Marino sought out the local TV reporter who asked the question that set him off and apologized. And after leaving the locker room, Marino stopped in the stadium tunnel to sign autographs, pose for pictures and speak with a youngster from Akron, Ohio.
The boy, 13-year-old Tim Wall, was wearing a No. 13 jersey and was flown to Miami for the game by the children's hospital where he's being treated for bone cancer.
Sanders Still Sitting
Barry Sanders once provided entertainment for millions of viewers with his antics on Thanksgiving, but he was just another couch turkey this year, watching the Lions game at his father's home in Wichita, Kan.
"He and I were sitting there watching the football game, and he didn't act like it was bothering him," said William Sanders. "I told Barry I thought he had two or three good years left. Barry said, 'I thought I had two or three good years left, too.' "
Sanders retired before the start of the '99 season and William Sanders insisted his son showed no signs of interest in returning, even if he'll have a chance to break the late Walter Payton's all-time rushing record. "He didn't say anything about coming back to football," William Sanders said. . . .
Baltimore quarterback Tony Banks has fumbled 52 times in his four-season career, the first three years in St. Louis. . . . Wonder why the Patriots' defensive players are not happy with the offense? Going into Sunday's win over the Cowboys, only one of their 146 offensive series lasted longer than six minutes.