Washington Redskins coach Norv Turner knows at the first sign of trouble this fall fans will call for backup quarterback Jeff George. After all, what’s Washington without a quarterback controversy?
Turner is already trying to silence any Sonny-Billy or Heath-Gus debates fueled by fans like the one who waited nearly four hours outside Redskin Park yesterday for George’s autograph before leaving in a car with license plates “NO1JGFAN.” Quarterback Brad Johnson is the starter. George is the backup.
“You just can’t overreact to every thing that happens along the way,” Turner said after taking a deep breath. “If you look at every team last year, they had periods where they struggled. You can’t let it throw you out of balance and overreact, or you do get yourself in a hole.”
George signed a four-year, $18.25 million deal with a $2 million bonus. That’s pretty hefty pay for a backup, especially when the Redskins hope George never earns a penny of it. Team officials even began contract-extension talks recently with Johnson’s agent to prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent next year, so George isn’t being stashed for the future either.
George understands he will enter the season as the backup. Then again, he did the same thing last year in Minnesota and won nine of 12 games.
“You don’t want to wish anything on anybody,” George said. “The best situation for the team is I’d never see the field. That means things are going good and we’re on the way to the Super Bowl. The Redskins have two good quarterbacks.”
Meanwhile, coach Norv Turner said the Redskins won’t match guard Brad Badger’s offer from Minnesota and will accept the compensatory fifth-round pick. The restricted free agent received a two-year, $2 million deal with a $350,000 bonus from the Vikings. Turner said he will consider drafting a guard in the middle rounds or sign a veteran free agent to replace Badger.
George is an expensive insurance policy. Turner cited the New York Jets’ fall from Super Bowl favorites to 7-9 last year after losing quarterback Vinny Testaverde in the season opener and St. Louis’ Super Bowl victory behind backup Kurt Warner after Trent Green was lost with a preseason knee injury.
Johnson proved his durability last year when he played 18 games after two injury-plagued seasons with Minnesota. However, Turner is wary the team’s expected playoff berth could unravel should Johnson get hurt.
“During the season there are circumstances that come up where a starting quarterback can’t play,” Turner said.
Enter George, whose 94.2 pass rating actually was higher than Johnson’s 90.0 last year. George was the NFL’s third-highest rated passer with 2,816 yards, 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Nine years after becoming the first pick of the 1990 draft and earning rookie of the year honors for the Indianapolis Colts, the mercurial quarterback finally peaked with his fourth team.
“For the first year in my career I had a lot of fun,” he said. “Just being back on the field appreciating the game and winning was fun.”
But Minnesota only offered a one-year, $1.5 million deal, which it later rescinded as George debated returning as a starter or earning more as a backup elsewhere. The Redskins nearly pulled their offer Monday when George again dawdled on a decision before a $150,000 sweetener cinched the deal.
“It was a no-brainer. I knew exactly where I wanted to be,” George said. “I’m really glad it worked out the way it did. I think I’m in a better position… . There’s no doubt the buzz is everyone wants to be a Washington Redskin. I’ve talked with a lot of players in the offseason at golf tournaments, and everyone is saying if you get the opportunity to be a Redskin to jump at the chance.”
George’s arrival means backup quarterback Rodney Peete will be released soon. Turner said he will make a decision on Peete and third-stringer Casey Weldon within two weeks. The Redskins might draft a quarterback in the late rounds to replace Weldon. Overall, the Redskins might save about $300,000 against the salary cap with George ($1 million) and a rookie ($200,000).
But is George, whose salary swells from $500,000 to $3.75 million in 2001, merely short-term insurance?
“Next year is too far ahead to worry about,” he said.