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Steelers Kent Graham leaves reluctantly, expects big things from Steelers

Monday, September 03, 2001

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Quarterback Kent Graham, cut by the Steelers yesterday in a cost-saving move, wanted to stick around for two reasons that had nothing to do with money.

Kent Graham warms up Thursday before the preseason game against the Bills. It turned out to be Graham's final appearance in a Steelers' uniform. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)

He did not want to uproot his wife and four children again and thinks he might be missing out on a championship season.

"I think the Steelers have great things in store, I really do," Graham said yesterday after the Steelers' attempts to trade him fell through. "I think they have a great team."

Graham was willing to take a pay cut from his scheduled $1.4 million salary in order to stay, but the Steelers never mentioned it again after talking to his agent briefly about it a week ago.

"I would have negotiated with them and tried to make it easier on them so I could have stayed," he said.

Coach Bill Cowher is taking a gamble by releasing Graham, who has played in the NFL since 1992 and started 38 NFL games, including five last year when he beat out Kordell Stewart for the job to open the season.

Instead, Cowher will go with two relatively inexperienced backups. Tee Martin, a second-year pro, has not taken a snap in a regular-season NFL game and did not play well in exhibition games this summer. Tommy Maddox, 30, has started four NFL regular-season games and thrown 164 passes but none since the 1995 season.

 
 
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Graham played only briefly in two exhibition games and did not play Thursday against Buffalo. He completed 8 of 16 passes with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He had surgery on his right arm early this year to repair a torn rotator cuff that developed when he changed his throwing motion after a hip injury in the third game of last season.

"I worked so hard in the off-season coming off the surgery," Graham said. "It was a long process, and I felt like I made it back finally and didn't feel I really got a shot in the preseason games to show it. That was disappointing."

Nevertheless, Graham believes the Steelers are in good hands with Stewart as their starter. He compared their 9-7 record last season to that of the '99 Giants, who were 9-7 and advanced to the Super Bowl a year later. Graham started nine games for the '99 Giants before he joined the Steelers last year as an unrestricted free agent.

"There are a lot of similarities between the Steelers last year and the Giants the year I left them," Graham said. "Both were 9-7, both up and coming. I could have missed [a Super Bowl] by another year because the Steelers have that potential, they really do."

Graham developed a good working relationship with Stewart last season and said Stewart deserved the starting job entering training camp this summer.

"I think Kordell's playing real well. He knows the system real well. I had a great relationship with him. He and I had been through me being a starter and him being a starter. Both of us, when we were down, handled things the right way. We had been through the tough times and we trusted each other.

"I thought he deserved to be No. 1 the way he ended up last season, and he's played real well this preseason, been smart with the football and worked within the framework of the offense. He's done a real good job, and I would have totally supported him.

"I would have liked to been a part of it, especially with Mike Mularkey in his first year as offensive coordinator. I'll miss working with him and with Bill. All that adds to the disappointment. But we have to go on and, hopefully, get into somewhat of a good situation where I can play."

Graham, as a vested veteran, does not have to clear waivers and can negotiate with anyone. Minnesota and Carolina are looking for veteran backups, and Cincinnati could be in the market because backup Scott Mitchell, who nearly won the Bengals' starting job, will miss up to six weeks with an injury.

"I still feel I can play in this league and do things that are necessary to be a starter," Graham said. "I have to get myself in a situation where I can get that chance."

The Steelers were Graham's fourth NFL team since the Giants drafted him on the eighth round from Ohio State in 1992. He has a career passer rating of 74.6, including a 63.4 last season when he started five games. His teams were 17-21 overall with him as their starting quarterback.

The Steelers will have to count Graham on their salary cap this year and next at $366,700 each because they gave him a $1.1 million signing bonus last year.

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