ST. LOUIS - Kurt Warner's storybook stay with the St. Louis Rams ended Tuesday, but he’s unlikely to be out of work for long.
The release of the two-time NFL MVP, who led the Rams to two Super Bowls, leaves Marc Bulger as the team’s No. 1 quarterback. Bulger took over as the starter for good after Warner fumbled six times in last year’s season opener.
Coincidentally, that game was against the New York Giants, the team likely to sign Warner to ease Eli Manning’s transition to the NFL. Warner has not started and won a regular-season game since 2001, going 0-6 in 2002 and losing that one game last season.
Bulger, who is 18-4 as the Rams regular-season starter, signed a four-year, $19.1 million contract in April as the first major sign that Warner would not be back. The team also signed backup Chris Chandler to a free-agent deal, and excused Warner from a three-day minicamp last month, all of which made Tuesday’s news less than a blockbuster event.
Mark Bartelstein, Warner’s agent, said that Jay Zygmunt, the Rams’ president of football operations, told him that the team had filed the necessary papers with the NFL office.
“I think there’s a lot of mixed emotions,” Bartelstein said. “He’s had so much success and such a great relationship with everyone in St. Louis.
“It’s an unbelievable chapter in his life and an unbelievable chapter in the NFL. To leave that, I think, is hard, but he’s in the prime of his career.”
Bartelstein said four or five teams remained in the running for Warner’s services, although most signs point to him signing with New York. He expected Warner, likely the biggest name to enter the second phase of free agency, would sign by the end of the week.
“Teams are calling all the time,” Bartelstein said. “Kurt and I kind of have a preference, where we think is the best fit, and we’re going to see if we can get that worked out.
“If we can, great, and if not, there’s other choices.”
By signing less than two months from the start of training camp, Warner is unlikely to get any guarantees of playing time. From that standpoint, the Giants might be the best fit right now.
“In June you’re never going to find a place where someone says ’Our quarterback situation is wide open,”’ Bartelstein said. “I also know if Kurt goes and plays the way he’s capable of playing, and he helps the team win and win big it doesn’t really matter who’s waiting in the wings.
“Kurt is going to be the guy.”
Warner, who turns 33 on June 22, led the Rams to Super Bowls in 1999 and 2001, but has been plagued by injuries since.
By waiting until now to cut Warner, the Rams will spread their salary cap hit over two years instead of one. He’ll cost them $4.6 million this year and $6.7 million in 2005. His contract called for a $9.5 million salary this year.
Warner, undrafted out of Northern Iowa but an Arena League star, got the Rams’ starting quarterback job in 1999 after Trent Green had a season-ending knee injury in the preseason. The Rams had endured a decade of losing seasons before Warner led the NFL with 41 touchdown passes, helping the team finish 13-3.
Warner also was the Super Bowl MVP after a 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans.
In 2001, Warner led the Rams to a 14-2 record, although St. Louis lost to the underdog New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Nothing much has gone right for Warner since then. He missed half of the 2002 season with hand injuries, throwing only three touchdown passes with 11 interceptions. That gave Bulger his first chance to shine with victories in his first six career starts.
Warner appeared to have regained his form last year with a strong preseason before his stumbling start in New York. Bulger never gave the Rams a reason to reconsider Warner the rest of the year.
I'm sure the rest of the cuts will be rolling in soon...