ATLANTA -- Convinced that quarterback's Chris Chandler's positives outweigh his propensity for injury, the Atlanta Falcons signed the 10-year veteran to a four-year contract extension reportedly worth $25 million Saturday.
The deal will keep Chandler from becoming an unrestricted free agent this winter, giving coach Dan Reeves stability at the game's most important position.
"A month ago I sat down with Chris and told him I thought he could take us to the Super Bowl and win the thing," Reeves said. "I think he has that kind of ability. Our job now is to keep him healthy."
Chandler could have gambled and passed on the offer, and with a productive season, he might have commanded a bigger contract in free agency. Similarly, the Falcons could have waited longer to make sure Chandler continued to demonstrate the durability he showed in the second half of last season.
In the first half of last season, Chandler missed two full games and parts of four others with an array of injuries. He has never played a full season without missing time with injury.
"We looked at it and felt like we needed to take some risk ourselves," Reeve said. "He's had less concussions than (Steve) Young or (Troy) Aikman. Somewhere, you've gotta say we have to do a good job protecting him. He knows the system now -- hopefully to where he can get rid of the football and protect himself."
Chandler, 32, led the Falcons to seven wins in the 10 games he started and finished last year. He wound up as the NFL's No. 2-rated passer (95.1) behind San Francisco's Young, and he played in his first Pro Bowl.
Details of the new contract were not immediately available, but it is believed Chandler will receive a signing bonus of about $6.5 million and that his 1998 compensation will be $8.5 million. The quarterback was set to earn about $2 million this year in the final year of a four-year contract he signed with the Houston Oilers in 1995.
Chandler has the third-highest quarterback rating in the NFL over the last four years, behind only Young and Green Bay's Brett Favre, and his career of 78 puts him ahead of such renown passers as Terry Bradshaw, Bob Greise, Ken Stabler and his father-in-law, ex-49er John Brodie.
"Just getting (the contract) done and not having to worry about it any more is a relief," Chandler said Saturday morning, before boarding the team's charter for Carolina. "It was becoming a distraction."
Chandler said he plans to sell two homes in California and settle in the Atlanta area with his family..
"When the club shows this much commitment toward you, I just think it encourages you to maybe even play harder, if that's possible," he said. "There's no doubt the most important thing is getting this team to the playoffs. This just makes that desire even stronger."
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