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Don't be held hostage

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The game was about more than a bitter regional rivalry or more than three hours of scintillating entertainment for a nation that had been bored to death the day before. In the swirling snow of Heinz Field Sunday, the Browns and Steelers taught themselves and the rest of the NFL a lesson in "quarterbacknomics."

What?

Bear with me, please.

Four starting quarterbacks who represent a combined salary cap hit of $29.3 million this season either lost or didn't play in their team's games this past weekend. Those quarterbacks are: Peyton Manning ($10.3 million), Brett Favre ($6 million), Tim Couch ($6.1 million) and Kordell Stewart ($6.9 million).

Meanwhile, Kelly Holcomb $760,000) and Tommy Maddox ($627,000) combined for 796 yards and six touchdowns passing, though the two quarterbacks represent less than $1.4 million of combined cap hit this season.

Maddox had already put Stewart on the bench, which will allow the Steelers to trade or cut Stewart and realize major cap relief in 2003. So what should the Browns do with Couch? Are you kidding?

Maybe you're saying, "Ketchman, you're letting your imagination get away from you, again." But, you know, we've been through this before. Kurt Warner came out of nowhere to put Trent Green out of a job, right after the Rams signed Green to an enormous contract. And maybe Marc Bulger is in the process of doing the same to Warner. And Tom Brady did it to Drew Bledsoe last season.

The last two Super Bowls have been won by Brady, the 199th pick of the 2000 draft, and Trent Dilfer, who was ridiculed through his career with Tampa.

Sunday, we had a quarterback (Holcomb) who was an undrafted rookie with Tampa in 1995, was cut four times by the Bucs, cut by the Colts in 2001 and signed by the Browns as roster filler. That means Holcomb has backed up former first picks of the draft (Manning and Couch) with the Colts and Browns, and this past weekend he led his offense to 33 more points than Manning and Couch did combined, which is to say no points.

And how about Maddox? How long can this story continue? The former first-round (1992) bust spent three seasons out of football before using the Arena Football League and the now-defunct XFL to get the attention of the Steelers.

Did the Steelers get lucky? Oh, absolutely. But somebody within the Steelers saw enough in Maddox last season, which produced seven completions in nine pass attempts, one touchdown and one interception, to sign Maddox to a new deal last spring. Around the league, mouths dropped open. Had the Steelers gone crazy? Yeah, crazy lucky.

The point to all of this is this: Don't be so quick to allow your team to be held hostage by a big-name quarterback. How do you think the Colts feel? Manning is scheduled to be more than a $15 million cap hit next season, which means the Colts will have to get into a major contract re-structuring this winter that will mortgage much of the team's future, for a quarterback who is 0-3 in the playoffs and can't beat the Titans.

This isn't the first time we've learned this lesson. But it's never been taught as dramatically as it was yesterday by Holcomb and Maddox.

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