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Raiders Sign QB Rich Gannon

February 15, 1999 GMT

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) _ Finally, journeyman quarterback Rich Gannon is getting his chance as a full-time starter and the Oakland Raiders, souring on Jeff George, are giving it to him.

The 11-year backup and spot starter was signed Monday by the Raiders, reportedly to a four-year, $16 million contract in a free-agent deal that also signaled the end of George’s disappointing two-season stay in Oakland.

``It’s been an uphill battle for me but it’s made me a better football player,″ Gannon said in a conference call. ``This is the first time I’ve entered the season as a starter, but my approach isn’t going to change at all.

``I always prepared each week so I really don’t think it’s going to make that much difference. Certainly, I feel I can handle the job and I think it’s going to be rewarding in the end.″

In other moves, the Raiders also announced the re-signing of backup quarterback Wade Wilson and the signing of receiver Chris T. Jones, who had 70 catches for 859 yards for Philadelphia in 1996 before hurting his knee. He was limited to four games in 1997 and was out of football last season.

Raiders coach Jon Gruden announced the signings but declined to go into detail about the team’s decision to go with Gannon over George.

``I’m not going to compare two players,″ Gruden said. ``This is all about Rich Gannon. He can make all the throws. He can throw the ball deep, short, intermediate. He can scramble. He has great knowledge of the AFC West. He has been a big part of Kansas City’s solid offensive play the last few years and he’s a great leader.″

The Raiders let George go over the weekend, declining to pay a $5 million option, a move that voided the final three years of his contract and made him a free agent.

George had hoped to stay with the Raiders and offered to renegotiate his contract but Gruden called him Saturday and told him the team was going in a different direction. George was said to be surprised, even devastated by the news.

``We assumed there would be good faith negotiations following the voiding of the contract (Friday),″ said George’s agent, Leigh Steinberg. ``All I’ll say is there wasn’t any.″

The Raiders went 4-12 with George as a starter in 1997 but a groin injury allowed him to play in just eight games and finish four last year, when the the team was 8-8.

While George helped revive the Raiders’ deep passing game, he was also hurt by a lack of mobility that contributed to his being sacked 80 times while with Oakland.

George also alienated Gruden and teammates alike when he went on his radio show with a month remaining in the season and declared himself out for the year. He hadn’t bothered to check with anyone in the organization, including the team doctor.

George actually came back to play _ and played well _ in the season finale but the damage was done.

Though he doesn’t have George’s arm, Gannon seems a better fit with Gruden’s West Coast-type system because he can throw on the move and is used to going through a progression of reads.

``He’s a good scrambler. He can avoid the initial rush and he makes great decisions,″ Gruden said. ``I think he rallies his teammates. He just has a lot of all-around skills and he’s bring them here to Oakland.″

Gannon, 33, built a 31-27 record as a starter and was especially impressive in the last two years, when he won 10 of 16 starts for the Chiefs while in relief of injured Elvis Grbac.

Gannon earned $700,000 last season but also had made it known to the Chiefs that he at least wanted a chance to compete with Grbac for the starting job.

However, new Chiefs coach Gunther Cunningham recently endorsed Grbac as his starter, eliminating the possibility Gannon would return to Kansas City.

With Oakland, Gannon believes he can follow the lead of other so-called journeyman quarterbacks who found their greatest success later in their careers such as Atlanta’s Chris Chandler, Buffalo’s Doug Flutie and Minnesota’s Randall Cunningham.

``I think one thing in common with all those guys is that they are competitors,″ Gannon said. ``They had some tough times but they believed in themselves and never gave up. I look at myself in the same light.″