Whoever loses the Buffalo Bills' quarterback battle is going to get the chance to shop himself on the NFL's open market.
Bills President and General Manager Tom Donahoe virtually ruled out the possibility of a trade of Rob Johnson or Doug Flutie Friday.
Whoever goes is almost surely going to have to be cut.
The reason is the NFL trading period doesn't begin until March 2. That's the first day the salary cap for the 2001 season goes into effect. So a team has to have room under its salary cap for 2001 to have a player on the roster in order to trade him.
"The difficulty with trading is there really is no trading period right now," Donahoe said. "This is kind of a dead period in the league. To trade either quarterback, we would have to carry them through on the salary cap through March 1st, and financially we're not sure we can do that."
"You can't make the trade beforehand," Donahoe said. "There can't be any type of side deal where at 12:01 (a.m. on March 2) we're going to trade this guy to so and so. You have to have the room on your cap, and I believe it's for a 24-hour period. You have to create the room."
Johnson's salary cap figure for 2001 is $8.29 million. Flutie's is $7.75 million. Those two currently take up 24 percent of the Bills' estimated 2001 cap figure, which for every NFL team will be about $67.4 million.
The Bills are sure to restructure or renegotiate the contract of the QB they decide to keep. That will bring one of those big salary figures down.
If the Bills do a straight restructuring of Flutie's contract, his new cap figure for 2001 would be about $5.3 million. If they restructured Johnson's deal (that means move base salary around but keep it the same length, through 2002), his new cap figure for 2001 would be about $6.6 million.
If the Bills cut Flutie, he would still count $4.7 million against the cap but they would save $3 million (compared with his current $7.75 million total). If the Bills cut Johnson, he still would count $6.6 million but they would save $1.66 million.
So hanging onto both of them for the sake of making a trade for a draft choice (which likely would not be a No. 1) would require Donahoe to cut one or two or maybe even three more veterans that he otherwise wouldn't have to cut.
Meanwhile, Donahoe maintained that neither he nor coach Gregg Williams has made a final decision on which quarterback to keep.
"When I made that internet comment . . . I didn't even know who the coach was going to be," Donahoe smiled, referring to his "Flutie is 21-9, what's the decision" statement. "So we're going to work our way through it. I don't want to make light of it, because obviously it's been an issue up here. It is important. Some people will like it, some won't, but we know we have to make a decision."
"We have a plan," Donahoe said. "Part of the plan has begun with (discussions between) Gregg and myself. We're going to continue it as (offensive coordinator) Mike Sheppard gets in early next week. We want to certainly take our time with it, look at the films, talk about the type of offense we want to run here in Buffalo and make a decision."
"Once we feel we have the decision, Gregg would like to bring the quarterbacks in and speak to them personally, which he will do, and I will do. And then we'll make the decision public.
"My mind is not made up," Donahoe maintained.
Whoever gets cut is sure to be pursued quickly. The Washington Redskins said this week they would be interested in either QB. News sources reported last month that Tampa would woo Flutie. San Diego is among numerous other teams that need a QB.
Regarding a new contract for receiver Eric Moulds, Donahoe sounded hopeful. However, he said in so many words that until a deal is signed, it's not a done deal. Moulds' agent has said the two sides are close to an agreement.
Donahoe said he has not yet had talks with the agent for defensive end Marcellus Wiley.
"Marcellus' agent said he'd like to wait and see what happened once the coaching staff was on board, now we will begin to talk to him in more detail," Donahoe said.
Presuming the Bills close the deal with Moulds, it will be difficult for them to find the cap space to sign Wiley, who is likely to get a large offer on the open market.
Meanwhile, the Bills have turned to the college ranks for their quarterbacks coach. He is Steve Kragthorpe, the offensive coordinator of Texas A&M. Kragthorpe beat out two former NFL QBs, Joe Ferguson and Jim Zorn, for the job.
An NFL source said it appears the Bills will retain John Levra, who coached defensive line the past three years for Wade Phillips.