SUWANEE, Ga. - Journeyman Chris Chandler is the Atlanta Falcons' new quarterback. The initial reaction is, yuk!.
Chandler is on his sixth team in 10 years. He has never played a full season without injury, never guided a team to the playoffs. He's never been to a Pro Bowl, never won an individual honor bigger than AFC Player of the Week (once, in 1995). In 90 career starts, Chandler has passed for 300 yards twice.
Tampa Bay cut Chandler in 1991. The decision did not come lightly. After all, the Bucs gave up what turned out to be the No. 1 overall pick of the 1992 draft (Steve Emtman) to get Chandler from Indianapolis. The Cardinals and Rams also had Chandler for a while and saw no reason to keep him.
And yet, upon further review, trading for Chandler was the Falcons' best option.
Chandler, 31, has been around long enough and worked for enough coaches that he's picked up some skills. He's probably as good or better than Elvis Grbac and Heath Shuler, and he comes a lot cheaper. By bringing in Chandler to start for a year or two, the Falcons can draft and develop a young quarterback. That's a much wiser move than throwing a ton of money at an unproven quantity such as Grbac.
"This allows you to still pursue a quarterback in the draft, whether it's Peyton Manning or somebody else," coach Dan Reeves said. "It doesn't eliminate you from those possibilities. It keeps the avenues open."
Chandler was a decent player in his two years as Houston's starter. He threw 33 touchdown passes to 21 interceptions, and he led the NFL in third-down passing in 1995 and '96. In fact, his 60.5 completion percentage is the best in Oilers history.
It's generally believed that the Oilers wouldn't be trading him if they didn't consider Steve "Air" McNair as big a part of their future as Tennessee license tags. Chandler made it clear he wouldn't accept being McNair's backup and invited the trade talks the Oilers have had with the Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs in recent weeks.
"I guess the only preference I had was just to get in a better situation than I was going to be in at Houston," Chandler said. "I think that structure would have been real hard for me to be in, with the pressure from higher up to play Steve and all of that. I wanted to go with a team that was going to give me a chance to play."
Of course, the Falcons found themselves in a quarterback fix because they essentially threw away Jeff George after spending two firstround draft picks to get him from Indianapolis. George is an Oakland Raider now, and contrary to popular perception, the Falcons are not better off. The coaching staff just won't go through the headache pills as fast.
Another thing about George: His problem in Atlanta wasn't his "volatile" off-field behavior, as a wire story recently stated. His problem was that he didn't win. For all of his remarkable physical talents, George didn't make the players around him better, and that's why he never won over his coaches or the team's fans.
As for the demeanor that made him so controversial, George was no bigger a jerk than Dan Marino, no bigger a crybaby than Jerry Rice. Winning can cover up a lot of faults.
Chandler possesses some intangibles George doesn't. He'll play with some fire. He'll play as though he cares more about putting the ball into the end zone than getting his cap on backward for the TV cameras.
"He does compete," Reeves said. "Anybody who's had that high of rating on third down (a combined 103.9 in 1995-96) is definitely competing. That's the toughest situation a quarterback faces because the defense knows you have to pass."
With Chandler, the Falcons will probably run a "vanilla" offense that features running back Jamal Anderson. That's OK, so long as there's a plan in place this time.