Free agent quarterback Kerry Collins and the Oakland Raiders are applying the finishing touches to a three-year contract, NFL sources said yesterday.
The deal between the Raiders and Collins is expected to be completed in the coming days and probably will lead Oakland to release quarterback Rich Gannon, the 2002 NFL most valuable player. The Collins deal leaves his other suitor, the Baltimore Ravens, likely to sign free agent quarterback Kordell Stewart to back up Kyle Boller, unless they wait to see if Gannon signs with Tampa Bay and the Buccaneers make Brad Johnson available.
Collins was released by the New York Giants when he refused to rework his contract after the team's draft-day trade for top overall choice Eli Manning. Collins's $7 million salary with the Giants would have counted as nearly $9 million against the salary cap.
From the moment Collins hit the market, executives around the league said he was a good fit for the Raiders because he can throw the ball downfield the way owner Al Davis and new coach Norv Turner like. Gannon prefers a shorter passing game, turns 39 in December and is coming off shoulder surgery that cut short his 2003 season.
Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome called Collins's agent, David Dunn, after the club learned last week that veteran backup Anthony Wright would have to undergo surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder. But the Ravens, according to sources, learned then that Collins almost certainly would sign with Oakland for a contract more lucrative than Baltimore was willing to offer. Newsome said Friday that Coach Brian Billick and Jim Fassel, the former Giants coach now serving as a consultant to the Ravens, had called Collins, adding: "It's in Kerry's hands at this point, which direction he's going to go."
But people familiar with the negotiations, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the deal isn't done yet, said late last week Collins was closing in on a deal with the Raiders, and the New York Daily News reported yesterday that Collins decided Saturday to play in Oakland. Dunn and the Raiders are working out the final details, sources said yesterday, and Gannon could be released unless he agrees to reduce his $7 million salary.
If Gannon is released, he perhaps could reunite with former Raiders coach Jon Gruden in Tampa. The Bucs failed earlier in the offseason to sign free agent quarterback Jeff Garcia to compete with Johnson for the starting job, and Garcia signed with Cleveland. If Gannon goes to Tampa and the Bucs release Johnson, the Ravens probably would be interested. Johnson and Billick are close from their days together with the Minnesota Vikings.
If they don't want to wait, the Ravens could sign Stewart, the former Pittsburgh and Chicago starter who was released by the Bears in March. Newsome is said to like Stewart, and agent Leigh Steinberg said Friday he had been contacted by the Ravens.
"They've called and have indicated their interest," Steinberg said. "We're considering it."
The Ravens also could pursue two-time league MVP Kurt Warner after his expected release by the St. Louis Rams after June 1, but many executives around the league expect him to sign with the Giants to mentor Manning. Tim Couch and Vinny Testaverde also could be released in June.
Wright is scheduled to undergo surgery today and could be sidelined six months. Newsome said Friday the Ravens would sign a quarterback no matter the outcome of the surgery.
NFL Note: Ravens cornerback Corey Fuller is facing a felony firearm charge in Florida. Assistant State Attorney Matt Smith told the Tallahassee Democrat he had decided after speaking to investigators to charge Fuller with using a firearm in the commission of a felony, a second-degree felony, because Fuller routinely carried a handgun while hosting high-stakes card games at his home.
Fuller previously was charged with operating a gambling house, a third-degree felony, following a raid on his house last month. The prosecutor reportedly also added a misdemeanor gambling charge. Fuller, who lost his starting job with the Ravens last season, has denied all the charges.