By Len Pasquarelli
It took several days longer than anticipated, but the Miami Dolphins and free agent quarterback Brian Griese reached agreement on a two-year contract Friday.
The end result was precisely what everyone believed it would be from the outset.
The agreement came after a week of haggling over its incentives package and after intense negotiations Thursday and Friday between team officials and agent Ralph Cindrich, a sequence that culminated with the Dolphins dramatically upgrading so-called backside elements of Griese's contract.
Griese will receive a $1 million signing bonus and a base salary of $530,000 for 2003. For the 2004 season, his salary cap charge is in excess of $6 million, meaning the Dolphins will either be forced to keep him as a starter, restructure the deal, or release him back into the free agent market.
If all goes according to plan, Griese will fly to Miami for a Sunday physical exam.
Negotiations were likely pushed along as well when at least two other teams, the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, entered the bidding. In fact, the Bears were aggressive in their pursuit of Griese and likely would have afforded him the opportunity to compete with Kordell Stewart, signed as a free agent earlier in the offseason, for the starting job.
Green Bay wasn't as avid a suitor, but the Packers were an intriguing option since there are no guarantees that Brett Favre will play beyond the 2003 season. There were two other unidentified franchises -- from the AFC North and the AFC West -- that also had interest, ESPN.com has learned.
While some of the Griese's other options might have been more attractive, particularly the one in Chicago, the five-year veteran seemed determined to sign with the Dolphins. He'll be returning to the city where he grew up and was a high school star, and where his father, Bob Griese, carved out a Hall of Fame career.
His affinity for Miami came despite the fact Griese will go to camp as just the backup to incumbent starter Jay Fiedler, and probably with little chance of supplanting Fiedler -- at least for the start of the season. Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt and vice president Rick Spielman have been very supportive of Fiedler, and candid with Griese in their discussions about his role with the team.
Griese, 28, was the starter in four of his five seasons with the Broncos. Just two years ago, he signed a six-year, $39 million that included a franchise-record signing bonus of $12.6 million. But he suffered through uneven seasons in 2001 and 2002, fell out of favor with coach Mike Shanahan, and was released Monday even though his departure caused a significant impact on Denver's salary cap in 2003 and '04.
The Broncos earlier this offseason signed former Arizona Cardinals starter Jake Plummer as their No. 1 quarterback, paving the way for Griese's eventual exit.
The former University of Michigan star, a third-round draft choice in 1998, has suffered through recent shoulder injuries and a series of off-field problems. In the last two years, he barely threw more touchdown passes than interceptions (38-34), was arrested on a DUI charge, tripped down the driveway of teammate Terrell Davis during a party and claimed to have been injured when he fell over his dog.
Those problems aside, Griese still has a winning record as a starter, a pedigree that means something in the league, and an 84.1 career passer rating.
In 53 appearances, of which 51 were starts, he has completed 1,044 of 1,678 passes for 11,763 yards, with 71 touchdown passes and 53 interceptions.
Given the structure of the contract, which increases substantially for 2004, Griese might be just a one-year player in Miami, with the Dolphins possibly forced to release him back into the free agent market next spring. But it was important to Griese and Cindrich that, if the quarterback logged significant snaps in the coming season and became the starter, his compensation be commensurate to his contribution.
Under terms of the Dolphins' first proposal in writing, for instance, Griese could play in 59 percent of the offensive snaps in 2003 and lead Miami to a Super Bowl victory, and his total compensation would be just $1.63 million. For him to qualify for any kind of a bonus based on passing yards, Griese would have to throw for 3,800 yards, a level that he never achieved in any of his four seasons as the Broncos' starter.
Were he to take all of the snaps in 2003 and take the Dolphins to Super Bowl XXXVIII, Griese's compensation would still be less than the average for a starter in the league, according to Miami's proposal.
The Dolphins finally upgraded those numbers Thursday and Friday and that is what finally got the deal done.
looks like he may only spend one year in mia, unless he can unseat fielder for the job, he will end up a free agent again next season.
T.S. - "You don't have to love me, but you will [b]RESPECT[/b] me"