ATLANTA -- Needing a boost in attendance and a competent backup quarterback, the Atlanta Falcons are exploring the possibility of acquiring former Georgia star Eric Zeier.
Falcons general manager Harold Richardson confirmed Friday that the team has had internal discussions about Zeier, who is set to become a restricted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens.
Zeier finished last season as the Ravens' starter, but the team may soon sign ex-Buffalo star Jim Kelly, and its quarterback situation is up in the air. Vinny Testaverde is under contract through 1999, although that doesn't mean he'll be back in '98.
If the Ravens make Zeier a qualifying offer by next Wednesday (at least $361,000), they will secure the right to match any offer the quarterback receives. The Ravens also could be in line for compensation (probably a third-round pick) if Zeier leaves, depending on the amount of their tender.
The Falcons' options would be to sign Zeier to an offer sheet or to work out a trade with the Ravens. The latter course of action has a better chance of success.
Zeier played high school football in nearby Marietta, Ga., before becoming Georgia's all-time leading passer. He held the Southeastern Conference passing mark until Tennessee's Peyton Manning broke it this year.
It is believed that Ravens' coach Ted Marchibroda has doubts about Zeier because of his lack of height. The quarterback is listed at 6 feet, 205 pounds.
The Falcons are seeking an experienced backup to Chris Chandler, who finished 1997 strong, but has never played a full season without injury.
ELWAY COMING BACK:
John Elway will have at least one more more shot at being "king of the hill."
The 37-year-old Elway, who quarterbacked the Denver Broncos to their first Super Bowl title last month, plans to return for the 1998 NFL season, his agent, Marvin Demoff, said Thursday.
MORTON SIGNING NEAR:
The Detroit Lions and free-agent wide receiver Johnnie Morton have agreed to a five-year contract worth an average $3 million a year, according to a published report Friday.
The Detroit News -- quoting a source close to the negotiations -- said Morton is expected to sign Monday, provided a minor, unspecified detail not involving money could be worked out.
The Lions said Friday they had no signing to announce.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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