Kerry Collins' rocky stay with the Carolina Panthers hit its biggest obstacle yet Wednesday when he voluntarily removed himself from the troubled team's starting lineup.
"His heart wasn't totally into what he was doing," coach Dom Capers said. "He said he felt like he disappointed the team somewhat."
Capers, trying to lead the Panthers out of a six-game slide, the longest losing slump in the three-plus years of the franchise, said the quarterback walked into his office and said he wanted to be taken out of the lineup.
"This was totally unexpected," Capers said.
While Capers did not rule out the possibility of Collins returning to once again lead the team in the future, not everyone on the team appeared to share that view.
"He has quit on us, and he's jumped ship," offensive lineman Frank Garcia said as the players left the team's headquarters after practice. "But that's the best decision for him, and I'm going to support him in that decision and move on."
Collins, whose move came six days before the NFL's trading deadline, would not speak with reporters. His agent, Leigh Steinberg, did not immediately return telephone messages left at his office.
Collins' decision means Steve Beuerlein, who is in his 12th NFL season and his third with the Panthers, will become Carolina's starter. Shane Matthews, who has yet to play a down in his one-plus seasons with the team, will be the backup. Collins attended the team's practice Wednesday, when he was relegated to the role of hird-string quarterback.
Beuerlein said it was hard to say how Collins' latest move would affect his future with the Panthers.
"This is something that will play itself out," Beuerlein said. "Whatever comes of it will come of it, and we'll deal with it."
Capers said he was unsure if or when Collins, who in 1995 became the Panthers' first-ever draft choice, would feel comfortable returning to the lineup.
| What does the future hold for Kerry Collins? (AP) |
"I told him we'd revisit later on," Capers said. "I'm sure we'll have communications, whether it be tomorrow or later on."
Capers said he has always told his players that if they aren't totally committed to their jobs, they should come and tell him. Until Wednesday, no one had ever taken him up on his request.
But Collins walked into his office around 8 a.m. and asked if he could speak with Capers.
"He did the right thing by coming in and being honest," Capers said.
Beuerlein, who counts himself among Collins' best friends on the team, said he had no indication that Collins was considering the move. Collins didn't say anything to Beuerlein about it until announcing the move at a meeting of the team's quarterbacks.
"We all thought he was joking. Obviously, he wasn't," Beuerlein said. "I can honestly say that I have never seen anything quite like this."
Collins has had his share of troubles this season, making him a frequent target of criticism for Carolina's 0-4 start heading into Sunday's game at Dallas (3-2).
After leading the NFL with 21 interceptions last season, when he also had the lowest quarterback rating in the league, Collins has started slowly in the Panthers' new West Coast-style offense.
He has completed 47 percent of his passes and thrown for eight touchdowns, but he has also been intercepted six times. He fumbled once and was intercepted twice in Sunday's 51-23 loss to Atlanta.
Taken with the fifth overall draft pick in 1995, Collins had winning records as a starter in his first two seasons. He guided the 1996 Panthers to the NFC West title and a berth in the conference championship game, both unprecedented accomplishments for second-year NFL expansion teams.
But his 1997 season began with his jaw getting fractured by Denver's Bill Romanowski in an exhibition game. By the time the year was over, various media reports had questioned whether Collins was a racist and drank too much, and he was being frequently cascaded with boos by fans at home games.
In the offseason, the Panthers declined to pay Collins a $6 million bonus that would have extended his contract another three years. The team opted instead to let him pay this year as a restricted free agent and become an unrestricted free agent after the season.
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