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Graham agrees to 3-year deal with Steelers

Will compete with Stewart for starting QB spot

Tuesday, February 29, 2000

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Kent Graham is in, Mike Tomczak is out and Kordell Stewart's job isn't safe anymore.

The Steelers came to a contract agreement yesterday morning with Graham, a 31-year-old free agent who will compete with Stewart this summer for the starting quarterback job.

They will pay him $5.1 million over three years with the chance to double that if he wins the job. He will receive a $1.1 million signing bonus and annual salaries of $440,000, $1.53 million and $2.03 million.

Steelers negotiator Dan Ferens and agents Tom Condon and his associate, Ken Kremer, worked out details yesterday morning. The team cannot sign him, however, until they clear room under their salary cap.

The agreement ends the seven-year Steelers career of Tomczak, who is an unrestricted free agent.

"I'm ecstatic right now," said Graham from his New Jersey home. "Looking at all the possible opportunities, I just felt I fit in well with the Steelers with my mentality and personality. I felt like it would be a good fit."

The Steelers' job was considered a plum in terms of opportunity for a veteran quarterback because he will get a chance to start. Stewart has had two poor seasons and finished 1999 playing wide receiver for the final 51/2 games as Tomczak took over.

Graham, who is 6 feet 5 and weighs 245 pounds, would not say what the Steelers told him about his chances to start.

"I'm going to let Coach [Bill] Cowher talk to you about that. I'm confident in what I can do. I'll just come in, relax and compete, do what I do best and let things go from there."

Graham started nine of the first 10 games for the Giants last season after finishing 1998 as their starter. Coach Jim Fassel switched to Kerry Collins for the 11th game and declared him their starter the rest of the way. When Graham refused to take a pay cut from his $1.3 million salary for this season, the Giants released him earlier this month.

Graham, 10-5 as a starter the past two years, has a strong arm but he has limited mobility.

"I definitely don't have the mobility Kordell does," Graham said, "but a lot of guys don't have that. I kind of got stereotyped as that. If you were to watch film on me, I do run the ball quite a bit. I try to be smart in my decision-making."

Graham saw similarities in the offense he must learn here and the one he ran in New York. Both places, he said, still feel the influence of former offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt, who came here from the Giants on Cowher's first staff in 1992.

"The system there is what I'm used to running," Graham said. "I still need time to come in there and learn. Happy to get it done early, get in town, move my family."

The Steelers had pursued Gus Frerotte, a Ford City High School graduate, but the coaches preferred Graham because of his size and stronger arm. Their new quarterback said he has no opinion on the offensive talent here.

"I don't know the guys, I haven't watched a lot of their film. I'm not an evaluator of talent. I'm just going to try to do the best I can to help the team."

Graham believes the Steelers can improve on their 6-10 record.

"There's a lot of parity in this league and things can turn around pretty quick. The Steelers were in a lot of games last year and could have turned it around."

Graham completed 160 of 271 passes (59 percent) for 1,697 yards last season with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. He had a 74.6 passer rating.

An eighth-round pick from Ohio State in 1992, Graham was cut by the Giants in 1995, spent a season on the bench with Detroit and then joined the Arizona Cardinals in 1996, where he became a part-time starter.

The Giants re-signed him as an unrestricted free agent in 1997. He started six games in each of the '97 and '98 seasons.

"I think I have a lot of good years left in me," Graham said. "I haven't been banged up much, my body feels good. I feel I have a lot to offer still."

Tomczak served as the No. 2 quarterback for six of his seven seasons here. He was the starter in 1996, the year after Neil O'Donnell left as a free agent to join the New York Jets.

The Steelers also lost their No. 3 quarterback, Pete Gonzalez, when they rescinded their offer to him and he became a free agent two weeks ago. He signed with the Indianapolis Colts.

The signing of Graham also affects Anthony Wright. The Steelers had planned to give the second-year player more snaps in training camp, but likely will have to cut back on those because Graham will need the practice time in his new offense.

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