Originally created 02/22/98

Most teams place emphasis on re-signing the best players



Green Bay and Pittsburgh appeared to be the big losers in the first week of free agency. But only to those who believe losing players translates to losing games.

Listen to Steelers president Dan Rooney, whose team always loses players but makes it deep into the playoffs each season.

"This is a team game and, if you're going to give all your money to just a few players, I don't think it bodes well," Rooney said after Pro Bowl receiver Yancey Thigpen signed with the Oilers for $21 million over five years.

"We have to pay 22 players, plus others," Rooney said.

And listen to Drew Rosenhaus, agent for Jessie Armstead of the Giants. Rosenhaus tore up Armstead's four-year contract and doubled his salary to about $3 million after an All-Pro season.

"This disproves the myth that you have to be a free agent to get the contract you deserve," Rosenhaus said. "Here's a guy who overperformed, and the Giants just ripped up his contract and gave him a new one."

When agents, particularly aggressive ones such as Rosenhaus, say things like that, times are changing.

So the emphasis this year among most NFL teams has been on re-signing their own best. The problem for the Steelers and Packers is they have too many good players to keep them all -- Green Bay either has lost or will lose cornerback Doug Evans, running back Edgar Bennett, defensive end Gabe Wilkins and guard Aaron Taylor, along with punter Craig Hentrich.

But even with their losses, the Packers will remain a force.

They've ensured that Brett Favre will be around for the next seven years; re-signed Brian Williams and Robert Brooks; will get back Dorsey Levens, and are trying to work out a long-term deal with Antonio Freeman, a restricted free agent.

And they could solve their defensive line problems by signing Dana Stubblefield or Sean Gilbert with money saved from Evans and Wilkins (although they both will sign at around $5 million a season).

Here are a few of the good moves this year:

-- The re-signings of John Randle and Todd Steussie by Minnesota; Willie McGinest and Bruce Armstrong by New England; Ray Roberts and Johnnie Morton by Detroit; Eric Swann by Arizona; Joel Steed by Pittsburgh and Darnay Scott by Cincinnati.

-- The trades in which Buffalo obtained Rob Johnson and Baltimore got Jim Harbaugh and Errict Rhett. Johnson is considered one of the top young quarterback prospects in the league; Harbaugh and Rhett provide a lift to an offense that disappeared late in the season.

-- The signings of linebackers Winfred Tubbs by San Francisco, Allen Aldridge by Detroit and Bryce Paup by Jacksonville plus offensive linemen Kevin Donnalley by Miami and Kevin Mawae by the Jets.

Tubbs, 27, is 11 years younger than Gary Plummer, the Niners' incumbent middle linebacker. Paup, the 1995 defensive player of the year, is primarily a pass rusher but will take pressure off Tony Brackens on a defense that ranked 23rd in the league. And Aldridge fills the Lions' need to replace Reggie Brown.

As for the others ...

-- Are Evans and Jeff Burris, who went from Buffalo to Indianapolis, $4 million cornerbacks?

-- Is Wilkins, with just one year as a starter, worth $4 million a year to San Francisco? The Packers, thin on the defensive line, weren't willing to go higher than $3 million a year to keep him.

Is offensive tackle John Jackson, another Pittsburgh defector, worth $26 million over six years to San Diego at age 32? Lomas Brown, of comparable ability to Jackson, went to Arizona from Detroit two years ago at 33 and has been hampered by injuries since.

Again, the best step is re-signing your own before they become free agents.

Tampa Bay and the Giants, who made big moves up last season, are both doing it.

The Bucs are working on new deals for defensive lineman Warren Sapp, fullback Mike Alstott and cornerback Donnie Abraham. The Giants have locked up Armstead, defensive end Mike Strahan, cornerback Jason Sehorn and fullback Charles Way.

"We've accomplished almost all the things we wanted to accomplish." We don't have to go out and sign a superstar," said coach Jim Fassel, who also re-signed safety Tito Wooten and kicker Brad Daluiso and picked up backup quarterback Kent Graham. "We don't have to go out and sign a superstar."

THE QUARTERBACK SHUFFLE:

Kent Graham

, who lost his job as the Cardinals' starting quarterback to rookie

Jake Plummer

last season, may have been the most sought-after QB in free agency. Is that enough to demonstrate the lack of quarterback talent in the NFL?

Graham is rated by "The War Room" an authoritative scouting service, as the NFL's 30th best quarterback. Only Rob Johnson, traded by Jacksonville to Buffalo, was more attractive among the available quarterbacks..

Still, the market is flexible.

Now that Baltimore has traded for Harbaugh,

Vinny Testaverde

is shopping himself. Graham's signing with the Giants makes

Dave Brown

available, and

Neil O'Donnell

may be on the market, although the Jets are talking about restructuring his contract.

Graham?

He was offered more than the $3 million over three years he got from the Giants to stay in Arizona. Other teams offered him the chance to compete for a starting job and the Jets, Bucs and Lions made serious offers.

But Graham, who will back up

Danny Kanell

, wanted to play for Fassel because they have a good relationship.

AND ...

There's probably less than meets the eye to rumors about Indianapolis trading the first pick in the draft to Carolina for quarterback

Kerry Collins

, draft picks and other players.

Attribute those rumors to:

1, The fact that

Bill Polian

, the Colts' new president, drafted Collins for Carolina and still likes him.

2, The fact that Polian (and most others with high draft picks) love to dangle picks rather than admit they'll make the obvious move -- like choosing

Peyton Manning

Ryan Leaf

3, The fact that

Leigh Steinberg

is the agent for both Collins and Leaf, the other top quarterback prospect. That makes a deal credible because Steinberg has a dozen starting quarterbacks in his stable and is in position to broker trades.

Best bet?

The Colts will keep the pick and take Manning. If they don't, they'll take Leaf, although it didn't help he showed up at the scouting combine weighing 261 pounds, 16 pounds heavier than he played at the end of season.