Confirming perhaps the NFL's worst-kept secret of recent weeks, and as a precursor to his post-June 1 departure, the St. Louis Rams have excused quarterback Kurt Warner from their three-day minicamp that begins Friday.
The two-time league most valuable player will not attend the mandatory sessions, according to league and team sources. In truth, it makes no sense for Warner to attend; the team can not afford an injury that would force them into liability for a pricey contract they are anxious to dump.
Warner, 32, will be released next month when the Rams can reduce the impact of his exit on their 2004 salary cap. Three weeks ago St. Louis reaffirmed that Marc Bulger will be the starter in 2004 by signing the three-year veteran to a four-year contract worth slightly more than $19 million, including a $9 million signing bonus.
The Rams also signed veteran free-agent quarterback Chris Chandler and drafted Jeff Smoker of Michigan State in the sixth round. That trio almost certainly will comprise the Rams' quarterback depth chart this season.
Earlier this month, Warner, who has been granted permission by the Rams to speak to other teams about employment, huddled with New York Giants executives and coach Tom Coughlin to determine interest on both sides. While other teams might pursue Warner once he is released, the strongest likelihood is that he will sign with the Giants as a veteran insurance policy and to help develop Eli Manning.
The departure of Warner will free approximately $4.85 million in 2004 cap room for the Rams. They'll still have to carry $4.61 million in so-called dead money, cap room devoted to a player no longer on the roster, against their 2004 spending limit. Warner's current cap number is a whopping $9.467 million, an exorbitant amount for a non-starter.
St. Louis will also have to absorb a cap hit of $6.723 million in 2005. Warner is under contract through the 2006 season.
Warner authored an incredible rags-to-riches tale. The onetime journeyman emerged from the Arena Football League and NFL Europe to lead St. Louis to victory in Super Bowl XXXIV. He captured league MVP honors that season and also in 2001.
But injuries caught up to Warner the past two seasons, when his playing time was reduced and his productivity waned. He made only two appearances in 2003, starting once. He has not won a game as a starter since 2001.
His career includes 1,121 completions in 1,688 attempts, for 14,447 yards, with 102 touchdown passes and 65 interceptions.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.