Kerry Collins, drafted to be the cornerstone of the Carolina Panthers, was cut Tuesday, six days after he said his heart was no longer into being the club's quarterback.
The team announced its move less than an hour after the NFL's trading deadline passed. Coach Dom Capers said the Panthers spoke with at least 10 teams over several days to gauge what interest the rest of the league might have in Collins. After finding no takers, Carolina elected to waive him.
"I certainly don't take any joy in making this decision," Capers said. "But from day one, I've stated that every decision that I'll make will be in the best interests of the Carolina Panthers. And with all the circumstances involved here, this was a decision we felt that we had to make."
The Panthers have lost seven consecutive games, five this season, the longest losing streak in the three-plus years of the franchise.
Collins, 25-21 as Carolina's starter, walked into Capers' office last Wednesday and told him he thought it would be best for the team if someone else were to take over as the starter.
Capers said as word of Collins' request began to filter through the locker room, it quickly became apparent the quarterback no longer would have the backing of his teammates, many of whom felt betrayed. At that point, Capers said, he began to wonder if keeping Collins around would create the right kind of environment for the rest of the team.
"The timing of this made it so extremely difficult that I don't know how we could have responded in any other nature," Capers said.
"Kerry's in a little bit of shock that it all developed so quickly and did not end up how he intended it to," his agent, Leigh Steinberg, told The Associated Press by telephone from his home in Newport Beach, Calif. "There's been a premature rush to judgment and vilification that really isn't merited."
Steinberg said Colins was merely frustrated with how the season was going for both himself and the team, and he got overwhelmed with emotion.
"Kerry Collins is someone who played with a broken jaw, who played with a broken nose and almost led an expansion team to the Super Bowl in their second year," Steinberg said. "The reality is that Kerry Collins is a tough player."
By being waived, Collins could be claimed by another team, which would pick up the remainder of a one-year contract worth $1.153 million -- a total of $746,048. If Collins is not claimed within 24 hours, he would become a free agent and could negotiate a new deal with any team.
Two teams had already called within minutes of the expiration of the trade deadline, and more were expected, Steinberg said.
"Someone is going to get an outstanding quarterback whose best years are ahead of him," he said.
After the trading deadline passed, Capers met with Collins for about 30 minutes to inform him of the team's decision.
Collins refused to speak with reporters but issued a statement.
"I'd like to express my sincere appreciation for everything that the Panthers' organization did for me during my time in Carolina," the statement said. "I regret that things didn't work out here, but I am certain that the Panthers will enjoy great success in the years to come."
Carolina's ecision ends an era that began April 22, 1995, when the Panthers used their first-ever draft pick on Collins, who guided Penn State to a 12-0 record as a senior and led the nation in passing efficiency.
He had a 7-6 record as a rookie starter before helping the Panthers win a division title and advance to the NFC title game in 1997, two feats never before accomplished by a second-year NFL expansion team. Collins was 10-4 in his second season and was a late invitee to the Pro Bowl.
Any chance of a repeat in 1997 seemed to disappear in the exhibition season, when Collins was sidelined with a broken jaw and was accused of directing a racial epithet at a black teammate.
By the time the year ended, Collins had thrown an NFL-high 21 interceptions and had the league's lowest quarterback rating. The Panthers, 13-5 a year earlier, slipped to 7-9 and missed the playoffs.
The Panthers refused in January to pay Collins a $6 million bonus that would have extended the terms of his original contract for three more years. Instead, the team elected to let him play this year as a restricted free agent and become an unrestricted free agent at the end of 1998.
The Panthers brought in a new offensive coordinator, Gil Haskell, and installed a version of the West Coast offense, but Collins still had his problems.
He was intercepted five times in Carolina's first four games before going into Capers' office and asking to be benched.
Capers made Steve Beuerlein the starter and Shane Matthews the backup. Collins, demoted to third string, was left home last weekend when the Panthers went o Dallas. Capers said he did not want the Collins issue to be a distraction for his team on the road trip, but Carolina still lost 27-20.
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