Free Agency 2003: Part III - Quarterback

Second-stringer Kordell Stewart will be traded, or more likely, released. Third-stringer Charlie Batch is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the month.<br> <br> Suddenly, the quarterback position, considered a strength for the Steelers in 2002, will have no depth at all behind starter Tommy Maddox.

That is why the Steelers would love to work something out with Batch, who did not attempt a pass this season after signing with the Steelers in June.

The former Detroit Lions' starter spent the entire season learning the Steelers' offense and would give the Steelers a nice complement to Maddox and whatever rookie the team brings with it to training camp in 2003.

But the Steelers will have competition for Batch's services because it figures to be a seller's market this year for free agent quarterbacks. There are definitely more teams in the market for a new starting QB than there are quality QBs on the market.

Heading the list of available free agents will be Arizona's Jake Plummer, who has shown just enough in his enigmatic career with the Cardinals to convince another team he can be the answer.

But the 28-year-old Plummer has thrown more touchdown passes than interceptions in a season just once in his six years in the league and his career passer rating of 69.0 may be a sign that he's never going to amount to much.

Still, there should be a strong market for Plummer's services. Behind Plummer and Batch is Baltimore's Jeff Blake, a 32-year-old journeyman who resurrected his career once again this season.

Stepping in when Chris Redman suffered a back injury, Blake performed reasonably well, throwing for 2,084 yards with 13 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions in 13 games, 11 of which were starts.

He still throws a nice deep pass and is effective enough to be a nice one or two-year option for a team that is grooming a young quarterback.

After those three, the free agent crop tails off considerably. Gus Frerotte began the season as Cincinnati's starter after coming over from Denver, but was ineffective and couldn't hold the job.

He may be a guy the Steelers look at, however, if they are unable to retain Batch. He's proven capable in the past of stepping in for a good team and keeping things in line while the starter is injured, having done so with Denver.

One intriguing player is New Orleans' backup Jake Delhomme. The 28-year-old Delhomme has thrown only 86 passes in his four-year career, but he's completed 50 of those for 634 yards to go along with three touchdown passes and five interceptions. He could prove to be an economical option for the Steelers and has more upside than Tampa Bay's Rob Johnson and Shaun King, or Washington's Shane Matthews, some of the other quarterbacks on the free agent horizon.

Teams will keep a close eye on the Steelers' situation with Stewart and Denver's with starter Brian Griese.

If the Steelers choose not to attempt to juggle their finances and thus release Stewart in early March, there will be a strong market for his services.

Denver, meanwhile, is expected to release Griese after June 1 as a salary cap move. Most teams will have addressed their quarterback problems by then, but one or two teams could wait for the oft-injured, but talented, Griese to hit the market.

(Editor's note: This is the third in a series of articles that will take a position-by-position look at free agency, which will begin Feb. 28, and how it pertains to the Steelers.)

By Dale Lolley

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