Chris Mortensen archive: stories

Aikman says possibility he won't play next year is 'realistic'

Chargers ponder Vick and Aikman

Oh, last I was seen was many miles away from home, in the lovely paradise called Hawaii. It is very easy to get disconnected there, but enough Pro Bowl players and coaches were around to talk football, and the phone lines work on the islands like anywhere else. So, here is what I can gather as I make a slow re-entry into the real world again:

Chargers evaluating Vick
Michael Vick is very much on the mind of the San Diego Chargers. I interrupted Chargers GM John Butler and coach Mike Riley in the middle of a film session Thursday as they studied the Virginia Tech quarterback.

"I can confirm this much -- Michael Vick is one terrific athlete," said Butler.

Michael Vick
Michael Vick figures to be the choice of the Chargers as the first pick in the 2001 NFL Draft.

Ah, but the trick is whether Vick can project as one terrific NFL quarterback.

"That part, I'm leaving up to Mike Riley and Norv Turner," said Butler. "They give me tremendous comfort in evaluating a quarterback."

If Vick is indeed San Diego's first pick, as expected, the Chargers will seek a veteran quarterback to bridge the gap to the year that Vick is ready to take over the reins. Remember, he's been through this before; Vick redshirted his freshman year at Virginia Tech.

Don't count on Ryan Leaf hanging around. The Chargers are willing to trade Leaf for a reported conditional third-round draft pick before making a decision to release him. It won't happen because of a $2.95 million check that is due Leaf on March 1; that's just a scheduled deferred payment in his original $11 million signing bonus.

Oh, Leaf will be wed this weekend -- few, if any, Chargers players will be in attendance.

If not Dallas, San Diego a possibility for Aikman
Troy Aikman wants to play football in 2001, despite his age (34) and recent bouts with concussions.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is said to be cool to the idea, preferring that Aikman retire as a Cowboy. Jones will give Aikman time, through June 1, before making a decision in hopes that the quarterback will change his mind.

However, if Jones is truly uncomfortable with the idea of Aikman playing again because of the concussion concerns, he has to make the call: Release him and allow him to play in another uniform.

That uniform? Don't be surprised if it's the Chargers, where Aikman would love to reunite with Norv Turner, San Diego's new offensive coordinator.

Will Young, Rice reconnect?
Steve Young is downplaying the Internet report in which 49ers great Jerry Rice said the quarterback is thinking about coming out of retirement. The two apparently have discussed presenting themselves as a "package deal" to an interested club.

Again, the Chargers seem to be an attraction to Rice; however, Turner does not run the West Coast offense. Does Young really want to learn a new scheme at 39 going on 40?

Wait, does Young really want to play? Young told me his talk with Rice wasn't to be taken seriously. However, Chargers linebacker Junior Seau made a pitch on the phone two hours before the Pro Bowl kickoff, telling the ex-49ers great, "Steve, just give me one year."

Young downplayed the possibility to Seau, but conceded he would be talking with his wife, Barbara. That being said, Young's good friend, Eagles tight end Chad Lewis, told me in the NFC Pro Bowl locker room, "There's no way Barb is going to let Steve play again, especially now that they've started a family."

If his wife did encourage Young to play, could Seattle or Denver be in the picture? Probably not, but you never know. Another problem is that the 49ers still own the rights to Young.

Bet on Johnson in Buffalo
Buffalo Bills quarterbacks Rob Johnson and Doug Flutie will meet with new coach Gregg Williams after the Indianapolis Scouting Combine next weekend as the final step in determining which QB will return to the team in 2001.

Williams will unveil the team's plans just to make sure one of them isn't uncomfortable with being part of the Buffalo future.

Best bet is that Johnson will return, with Flutie released. Flutie then will see some teams like San Diego, Tampa Bay, Washington, and possibly Green Bay showing interest. It also wouldn't surprise anyone if Flutie wanted to return to the New England Patriots.

Ravens want Dilfer back
Yes, the Baltimore Ravens would like to re-sign Trent Dilfer, but not much higher than the $1 million they paid him in 2001, and perhaps in a backup role if they should sign free-agent Brad Johnson.

Johnson won't be an easy get for the Ravens, who are just over the cap limit with just 30 players under contract.

Johnson will have an interesting choice. The Buccaneers and Chargers have interest; in fact, the Bucs' interest could grow strong as head coach Tony Dungy weighs bringing in a challenger for Shaun King.

Dilfer is very intriguing. He won the NFL Quarterback Challenge in Kauai following the Pro Bowl. He threw the ball 70 yards, and also won the read-and-recognition contest, a surprising development when you consider that Peyton Manning was part of the competition. (Not that Manning was inspired a week after the Pro Bowl).

But everyone who saw Dilfer's pure physical skills did leave Hawaii wondering why he isn't a superstar. The problem, however, is simple: He just isn't very accurate when under fire.

Teams may vie for Kitna
Aside from Johnson and Dilfer, the other free-agent quarterbacks who will be on the market for certain on March 2 include Seattle's Jon Kitna, Denver's Gus Frerotte and Cincinnati's Scott Mitchell.

Kitna could get some action. Again, San Diego is a possibility, and I would guess (that's all it is) that if Seattle traded for the Packers' Matt Hasselbeck, then Green Bay coach Mike Sherman would have interest in Kitna as Brett Favre's backup.

Also, Raiders coach Jon Gruden likes Kitna's spunk, but he also remains high on Rich Gannon's backup, Bobby Hoying.

Holmgren has eye on Brunell
Seattle coach Mike Holmgren is certainly monitoring the negotiations between the Jacksonville Jaguars and quarterback Mark Brunell, who as of now will count $13.35 million against the cap in 2001.

Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver doesn't want to lose Brunell, and progress has been made in recent negotiations on a new deal. But Weaver also says he can't make Brunell the highest paid QB in the NFL. And if things fall apart, Holmgren will be calling Jacksonville.

Look for big names on the market
Jacksonville is $36 million over the cap, Kansas City $31 million and the Buffalo Bills almost $19 million.

In recent years, there has been unwarranted media speculation about big-name players being cut loose and available on the free-agent market. This year, it might happen. In fact, one team executive said, "I think there's going to be some whopping names out there, starting next week."

The Jaguars probably will cut loose right tackle Leon Searcy and safety Carnell Lake. The Chiefs certainly will say goodbye to defensive tackle Chester McGlockton and cornerback James Hasty.

The Bills have almost no alternative but to release Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ted Washington, who is due around $7 million yet played just 53 percent of the snaps with diminishing results as the season played on. Throw in Flutie or Johnson and linebacker Sam Rogers, and a few more Bills.

Some Titans turnover
It's interesting that the Tennessee Titans, who won the AFC Central but were surpassed by the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, faced more postseason upheaval than their rivals. That stemmed from Buffalo GM Tom Donohoe's decision to hire Williams, the Titans' defensive coordinator, over Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis (not to mention the Giants' John Fox and the Jets' Ted Cottrell).

Williams was extremely popular and respected by the Titans' defensive players. Not only that, but a couple of those players were disappointed that Jeff Fisher promoted linebacker coach Jim Schwartz over secondary coach Jerry Gray, who then accepted Williams' offer to become the Buffalo defensive coordinator.

The Tennessee players who complained privately to me cited Schwartz's inexperience as being only one year on the job as linebacker coach before being promoted. Then again, there were Tennessee players who once second-guessed Fisher's decision to promote the unproven Williams several years ago.

Plus, Fisher has a defensive background and certainly secured the defensive staff's experience by hiring Gunther Cunningham to coach linebackers.

Fisher's bigger concern this offseason is his receiving corps. He will almost certainly release Yancey Thigpen and Carl Pickens, while trying to find a way to re-sign free agent Derrick Mason. The season-ending knee injury to Kevin Dyson proved much more damaging to the Titans, who figure they would be reigning Super Bowl champs if they only had receivers who could get open downfield.

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