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Original Issue

Inside the NFL

Worth a Gamble
In the right system quarterback Jake Plummer could still be a

Just as the praise for the marvelously improvisational Jake
Plummer was overly lavish when he was picked in the second round
of the 1997 draft, now the criticism of the quarterback seems a
bit overdone. Six personnel directors and pro scouts who last
week were asked for their take on Plummer responded with
characterizations ranging from "awful" to "clueless" to
"incredibly careless"--in line with the thoughts of Cardinals
fans who essentially booed him out of Arizona after six mostly
underachieving seasons.

But you read it here first: Plummer, the most intriguing player
on the market when the free-agent signing period kicked off last
Friday, will make the biggest turnaround in the NFL in 2003. On
Monday all signs pointed to Plummer getting a chance to resurrect
his career with the Broncos--the two sides talked contract
numbers--and while landing in quarterback-friendly Denver would
be great tonic for him, he is the classic example of a player who
simply needs a fresh start.

With the Cardinals, Plummer never had a franchise running back
behind him and had one of the NFL's weakest lines--he was sacked
215 times, fourth most in the league during the six-year span--in
front of him. He was repeatedly playing come-from-behind football
(granted, sometimes because of his own mistakes) and operating an
offense designed for him to throw downfield more than most other
quarterbacks, which helps explain his woeful 55.9 career
completion percentage.

Over the past four years Plummer has been so desperate to make
plays that he has thrown 21 more interceptions (79) than
touchdown passes (58). One source close to Plummer says he
finally understands that he has to stop trying to win games on
spectacular plays when the opportunity isn't there. Well, it's
about time. It would also help Plummer if he played in a system
with more play action and short throws. So the Broncos and
offensive-minded coach Mike Shanahan would seem to be a perfect

"The things I've experienced the last six years will be what I
draw on the next few years," Plummer said on Sunday. "I'm
confident in my abilities and in what I can do in the right

As the savior who never was, Plummer, 28, made some $30 million
over the last four seasons. Now he'll make considerably less, and
deservedly so. But as one Plummer confidant said last week, "He
doesn't want money now. He wants to be good."

Emmitt Smith's Future
TV Booth May Be Best Option

Would alltime rushing leader Emmitt Smith take a job as a Fox
analyst? It could happen if he can't find work in the NFL. Smith
needs 2,838 yards to get to his goal of 20,000, but that seems
the longest of long shots. Released last week after 13 years with
the Cowboys, Smith turns 34 in May. In the past 19 years no
player that old has rushed for 1,000 yards in a season, never
mind done it twice. And he doesn't want to join a perennial
rebuilder such as the Cardinals or the Panthers, both of whom
have a spot for Smith.

The team Smith would love to play for? Sources say the Patriots.
New England seems satisfied with Antowain Smith, but could be
interested if Emmitt doesn't demand the starting job or too much
money. Tampa Bay and Oakland could be in the mix, but neither
wants to pay much more than the minimum.

COLOR PHOTO: STEPHEN DUNN/GETTY IMAGES (PLUMMER) Plummer often played recklessly in Arizona, but he could flourish in a low-risk offense.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Smith still has 20,000 yards as a goal, but age is a factor.

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