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Original Issue

Inside The NFL

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 wild-card 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

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.

Seahawks general manager-coach Mike Holmgren, skittish about Jon
Kitna, has worked out Todd Marinovich and Chris Miller, who have
been out of the league for six and three years, respectively.
Steinberg's office even called Seattle, saying George would play
there for the minimum. Don't call us, we'll call you, said the
Seahawks, who instead traded a seventh-round pick for Jets
reject Glenn Foley last Friday.

"Jeff is an enigma," says Holmgren. "You don't know why, but
it's never happened for him. I'm trying to build a program, and
Jeff's not the type of leader you're going to bring in to help
in the locker room or to develop a young quarterback. He's not
young enough to be your quarterback of the future."

He is, however, talented enough to bring in at least as a
backup. The Vikings have an interest in George at a low salary.
The Chiefs and the Dolphins should take a look at him, too. If
and when some team signs George, it could end up with the best
bargain of the off-season.

Video Redux

Here's something to consider in the wake of the return of
instant replay, by a 28-3 vote of owners last week: Of the four
bad calls that were generally regarded as the most damaging in
'98, the challenge system that will take effect next fall would
have reversed only two. They would have been the last-minute,
fourth-down catch by Patriots wideout Shawn Jefferson that was
actually out-of-bounds and the fourth-down scoring run by the
Jets' Vinny Testaverde, who really didn't cross the goal line.
The blown calls gave New England a win over Buffalo and New York
a victory over Seattle.

But the other two horrendous calls would have stood. The
incorrect pass-interference call on the Hail Mary throw in the
same New England-Buffalo game would not have been reviewable
because it was a judgment call. In the last minute of the 49ers'
wild-card win over the Packers, officials ruled that the play
had been blown dead before Jerry Rice fumbled--another call that
cannot be reversed.


Even though he slapped the franchise tag on Richmond Webb to
avoid losing the would-be free agent without compensation,
Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson has never been a huge fan of the
33-year-old left tackle. Now Johnson is finding that no one else
wants to make Webb a $3.5-million-a-year player....

Absurdity of the Week: The 49ers asked the Seahawks for a
second-round pick and an undisclosed player in exchange for
backup quarterback Jim Druckenmiller, a disappointment since
being selected in the first round of the '97 draft....

Patriots coach Pete Carroll on the future of running back Robert
Edwards, who suffered severe nerve and ligament damage to his
left knee in a beach flag-football game for rookies during Pro
Bowl week: "If he makes it back, it will be miraculous."...

To school his new quarterback, Kerry Collins, on passing
fundamentals, Giants coach Jim Fassel dug out a 1982
instructional tape featuring a 21-year-old John Elway.

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS On the field at least, George, who led the league in passing yards in '97, has gotten better with age.

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Replay confirmed that Rice fumbled, but it still can't reverse a play that is blown dead.

Inside the Draft

Talk at last week's NFL meetings centered, predictably, on
quarterback prospects. The Browns, who have the No. 1 pick,
appear to have narrowed their choice to Kentucky's Tim Couch or
Oregon's Akili Smith, while the Eagles, who select second, are
zeroing in on Donovan McNabb of Syracuse....

Rams coach Dick Vermeil, repeating a sentiment expressed around
the league, says he wouldn't be shocked if his team had the
opportunity to take Texas running back Ricky Williams with the
sixth pick. If Williams slides that far, St. Louis would debate
the choice between the Heisman winner and Miami running back
Edgerrin James....

In 1991, when he was the Cowboys' coach, Jimmy Johnson sent a
dogged scout to North Carolina for a week to investigate
prospect Eric Swann, looking for a reason not to draft the
defensive tackle who had played semipro but not college
football. The scout didn't find one, but the Cardinals snapped
up Swann with the sixth pick. Now in Miami, Johnson is intrigued
by running back Cecil Collins, whose six-game college career at
LSU and McNeese State was cut short by an injury and off-field
incidents. "We're spending more resources investigating Collins
than we did with Swann," says Johnson....

Rising: Ohio State wideout David Boston, LSU defensive lineman
Anthony McFarland. Falling: Georgia tackle Matt Stinchcomb, Ohio
State linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer.