Collins vs. Harrington?

IRVING, TX - With Drew Bledsoe out of the picture, the Dallas Cowboys have a big decision to make when it comes to their back up quarterback.

The NFL is a Who-You-Know business. So as we try to decipher the future of the Cowboys backup QB position -- unnervingly, never much of a priority under the previous regime but certainly an issue now that the Dallas staff includes so many coaches who once made their livings as backup QBs -- we ought to ask:

Who Do They Know? An educated guess at this early stage: Give me an in-house debate between Kerry Collins vs. Joey Harrington.

The Cowboys' release of Drew Bledsoe would, under most circumstances, be headline news. He was the first player taken in his draft, was a Super Bowl quarterback, was a four-time Pro Bowler, is a guy who ranks seventh all-time in passing yards (44,611) and 13th in TDs (251), and was the two-year starter for America's Team. Bill Parcells of ESPN (which, by the way, sounds like a much better way to describe the man) always said Bledsoe was the sort of athlete with the sort of arm who "could make all the throws forever.''

And now Drew's been thrown out? Of course, we know why. By cutting Bledsoe, the Cowboys avoided paying him a $1 million roster bonus and will save about $6 million against the cap. That's the driving force. And while owner Jerry Jones politely talks of Bledsoe re-upping with the Cowboys to back up Tony Romo, my impression is that the talent evaluators at Valley Ranch don't agree with the owner.

Jones said "the door is very much open for him being a part of our future. Drew has been a solid leader for our team and a true professional both on and off the field. He has also been a great role model to all of our players through his love of children and his interaction with kids in need. He has been a special contributor to this organization on many levels."

Most of that is true. And very sweet. Bledsoe remained a team captain and handled his demotion with dignity. At the same time, he was starting to exhibit Throwoffthebackfootitis. And, frankly, he reeks of the odor of "Parcells Guy,'' and why do New Regime'rs Wade Phillips, Jason Garrett and Wade Wilson need that?

Besides, I don't see Bledsoe desiring an invisble and affordable role. As one Valley Ranch voice told me on Friday, "Jerry would probably do it in a heartbeat, if it was small money. But Bledsoe wouldn't.''

And then there is this indictment from another Cowboys staffer: "Drew can still stand back there and throw the ball, yes. But when pressure comes, he's no longer a good quarterback. I'd be shocked if he's in the league next year.''

So let's go to the other names.

* The Jets tried to dump Patrick Ramsey on the Cowboys in trade. Dallas said no.

* The Vikings have released starter Brad Johnson, who fits the profile as a smart, unselfish vet. ... but who last year demonstrated that he can't get the ball downfield, can't move, can't play a lick.

* Old friend Vinny Testaverde is out there. "You know,'' said a scouting friend of mine, "he did make a good impression on the Jones'. He's a smart businessman, he's a good teammate. But that ship has sailed.''

I mentioned to my scout the "Parcells Guy Stench'' concept. "I agree,'' he said. "If I was Jason Fabini, for example, I would be renting, not buying.''

* Jeff Garcia has the highest profile, having ignited the Eagles' late run. Like most guys, he believes he's a starter. He's probably the only one who is right.

* And then comes Kerry Collins and Joey Harrington. Harrington played as a part-time starter in Miami under QB coach Garrett. Harrington remains a reclamation-work-in-progress, and a player young enough to still believe he has an upside, so he is probably in that I-want-to-be-a-starter mindset.

Collins is unlike to harbor the dream at that same level. And his Who-You-Know credentials run even deeper. When Collins moved to the Giants and needed to turn his career around -- remember the crazy racial stuff in Carolina and the booze-and-cigar-and-police-station stuff in New Orleans? -- it was a teammate named Jason Garrett who befriended him. Garrett (along with another familiar name, Sean Payton) guided Collins onto the straight-and-narrow path to a Super Bowl appearance.

You might say Kerry Collins owes Jason Garrett a favor.

And there is this information I get via a member of the coaching staff in Tennessee, where Collins this year relinquished the No. 1 job to Vince Young: "Kerry took it great. He was very helpful to Vince.''

Hmm. Maybe Collins, inspired by Garrett and then befriending Vince, was "paying it forward''?

Want one more Collins Who-You-Know tidbit? New Cowboys assistant Ray Sherman worked closely with him last year in Tennessee.

By digging into all of this, I'm not saying backup QB is the most important free-agency decision Dallas must make. Heck, by bringing in Leonard Davis on Day 1, you've got your sign of what the priority is. ("That's a sign of seriousness from both parties,'' says a person who will be close to those negotiations.) By letting the talented Kenyon Coleman roam free, you've got another sign. (You watch: Coleman, at either end or tackle, will end up starting for somebody in '07).

But for years, the Cowboys under Parcells left the backup QB job widely uncovered and generally unmanned. They struck it rich when their No. 2 Romo became a No. 1. Garrett & Co. won't leave it uncovered and unmanned again.

An educated guess says Dallas will want either Collins or Harrington to make sure of that.

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