Is Warner talk smokescreen for Garcia?

Detroit Lions head coach Steve Mariucci, speaking to a select group of media, said that Detroit would be in the market for a backup quarterback and that he didn't know who would make up his "pitching staff" this fall. While the name of former Giants backup Kurt Warner was mentioned was that just to hide their interest in Cleveland Browns starter Jeff Garcia?

ALLEN PARK - Speaking to a select group of Lions media, head coach Steve Mariucci told the assembled group "we haven't made any sort of decision yet on what's going to comprise our pitching staff. That's what I'm going to call it, our pitching staff. Then the coach asked "Did I open a can of worms?"

Of course he did, and maybe that's the point. Mariucci has never really warmed to incumbent starter Joey Harrington as a franchise type quarterback. Harrington, coming off his third NFL season, finished 12th of 16 full time starting quarterbacks in the NFC.

His passer rating of 77.5 is hardly what you would expect of a quarterback picked third overall. His third lackluster season in a row is giving the Lions reason to look around for alternatives.

Two players immediately come to the forefront in any discussion of replacing Harrington, fourth-year quarterback Drew Brees of the San Diego Chargers and Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck.

Brees ranked second in the AFC in passer rating (104.8) behind only Indianapolis' Peyton Manning. Hasselbeck, in his 6th year out of Boston College threw 22 touchdowns against 15 interceptions and compiled a 83.7 passer rating while leading his team to a playoff loss to St. Louis.

Brees is clearly "the guy" when teams looking to upgrade their quarterback situation look around. However, the Chargers are intent on getting something for Brees and may slap the franchise tag on him meaning any team signing him would have to part with two first round draft picks. Instead, a sign-and-trade scenario seems more likely where a team reaches a compensation agreement with San Diego and then trades for Brees and signs him to a long term contract.

Detroit could be a player in these kinds of deals since they have a roster bonus due Harrington in July, they could trade for Brees and be free of the roster bonus and nearly $5 million in base salary for the underachiever if they released him after June 1.

The pro-rated portion of the remaining three years of his deal wouldn't hit the Lions salary cap until 2006, but the savings they would reap from being free from his base salary and incentives would make the move a wash.

Sources in Seattle say that Mike Holmgren is lobbying for the team to re-up with Hasselbeck and talks of putting the tranisition tag on him are ongoing. Still the possibility exists that Seattle could allow Hasselbeck to walk and be players in the Brees sweepstakes.

Mariucci's comments though may be only to mask the team's interest in Cleveland Browns starter Jeff Garcia. Garcia and Mariucci had much success in San Francisco and Garcia's former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ted Tollner is Detroit's offensive coordinator.

New Browns head coach Romeo Crennel has not indicated whether Garcia is his man or not but sources close to the situation indicate that Crennel will not run the west coast offense and Garcia's salary cap figure will likely make him a cap casualty.

New Browns GM Phil Savage said that he and Crennel will make a decision fairly quickly. "We've kind of come to pretty much an agreement that as soon as we had a coach on board that we would discuss the situation in an open format between myself and the coach and come up with a conclusion fairly quickly so that [Garcia] knows, 'Hey I'm a Brown or I'm not going to be a Brown and I can go forward that way,'" said Savage.

Detroit's open interest in Warner apparently stems for a tape sent by his agent to the Lions officials. "He's going to be free in about two weeks," Mariucci said of Warner. "He's keeping his door open, and we are with him."

However, one thing to keep in mind is one of Mariucci's most admirable traits, his staunch loyalty to those who have worked closely with him. When he was fired in San Francisco, Garcia was the most outspoken of all the 49er players. At the time he said "Coach Mariucci has done a great job for this team. He helped bring this team back to respectability in the league. I have a lot of respect for him as a coach and as a person."

Then he continued, "because of my friendship with Steve Mariucci, it's going to be hard to play for someone else."

Mariucci has never forgotten those comments made when his coaching future was in limbo. While a decision has been made on Warner, one hasn't been made on Garcia. Speaking about him now would be construed as tampering in the NFL's league offices. Still, Garcia, 34, has a few good seasons left in him and would likely want to go to a situation he is familar with and to a coach he knows he can trust.

INSIDE TRACK: Lions wide receiver Roy Williams had surgery to clean up debris to his injured ankle. Williams is not expected to participate in the April mini camp sessions but should be back in time for July's training camp.

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