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GIANTS RELEASE COLLINS, FOCUS SEARCH FOR BACKUP ON O'DONNELL

Quarterback Kerry Collins was released by the New York Giants on Wednesday, less than a week after the team traded for rookie Eli Manning.

Collins was to earn $7 million this season and count $8.95 million against the salary cap, and refused to renegotiate his contract.

The Giants have asked Neil O'Donnell to groom Manning this year, Rutherford-based agent Steve Rosner told the Record of Bergen County. O'Donnell is building a home in New Jersey, where he plans to retire.

The Giants already have worked out former Patriots quarterback Damon Huard, who was headed to an interview with the Kansas City Chiefs. Veteran Jeff Blake also may be considered, but the team is believed to be waiting for an answer from O'Donnell before calling other candidates.

"Kerry Collins played his heart out for the Giants and took us to the Super Bowl," General Manager Ernie Accorsi said. "Unfortunately, the economics of the system we work in today determine these most difficult decisions."

Collins is second on the team's career list with 1,447 completions, trailing only Phil Simms. He is third in pass attempts (2,473) and passing yards (16,875), behind only Simms and Charlie Conerly in both categories. Collins' 81 TD passes rank fifth on the Giants' career list.

Collins' agent, David Dunn, already has spoken with officials from four teams, according to the Daily News. The Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens, Arizona Cardinals and Raiders contacted Dunn.

McKenzie skips minicamp

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Cornerback Mike McKenzie fulfilled his pledge to boycott the Green Bay Packers' first offseason minicamp, the first formal step in his demand to be traded.

McKenzie wasn't the only notable absence: Tim Couch and Joe Johnson also stayed away.

Couch's representatives continued talks with Packers chief negotiator Andrew Brandt on a contract that would allow the top pick in the 1999 NFL draft to come over from Cleveland to back up Brett Favre. The Packers are trying to rework the final two years of Couch's deal, which call for him to make $15.6 million.

The Chicago Bears also called the Browns and expressed interest in acquiring the quarterback.

Favre doesn't care if Tim Couch comes to Green Bay.

"I haven't put much thought into it, really," the Green Bay Packers' star quarterback said. "I've never been concerned about who would play if I got hurt, because I don't anticipate that happening," Favre said. "I realize that at some point someone else will be the starting quarterback for this team, but I haven't put much thought into it."

Meanwhile, the Packers re-signed backup quarterback Doug Pederson, who took most of the snaps Wednesday.

Favre said he was glad to see Pederson back.

"Doug helps me tremendously on the sidelines and in practice. He knows me and he's not afraid to tell me what I don't want to hear. It's overlooked sometimes, but his holding (for placekicks) and stuff like that is so crucial," Favre said.

Johnson didn't get an invitation, an indication the Packers are about to give up on the disappointing defensive end who provided next to nothing for $10 million over the last two seasons.

Bills sign free agent

The Buffalo Bills signed undrafted free agent Tony Case.

Case started every game at right guard the last two seasons for Adams State. Case was also the long snapper for his Division II college in Alamosa, Colo.

Jon Dorenbos handled the majority of the long snaps last season for the Bills, with starting center Trey Teague contributing on occasions.

Buffalo signed 18 undrafted free agents Monday.

Around the league

Former Buffalo State tight end TJ Cottrell, the son of ex-Bills defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings. The 6-foot-6, 253-pound TJ had 69 catches for 787 yards and seven TDs in four seasons with the Bengals. Ted Cottrell is the Vikings' defensive coordinator.

ESPN's coverage of the draft's first day Saturday (noon-8 p.m.) was seen in an average of nearly 3.4 million households, an increase of 11 percent over last year's draft and the most ever. Those numbers were more than three times higher than TNT's coverage drew for first-round NBA playoff games between Miami and New Orleans, and Detroit and Milwaukee.

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