Report: Steelers to axe Stewart
PITTSBURGH, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- It looks like the days of Kordell Stewart as quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers are over.
The Steelers reportedly will release Stewart by the end of the month in a salary cap move.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Tuesday that the Steelers will release Stewart by Feb. 28 in order to be under the new salary cap of $75 million. The cap goes into effect that day.
The Steelers are $1.8 million over the cap and that figure will rise to more than $4 million after various incentive clauses are calculated.
The newspaper reported that there has been little trade talk involving Stewart, who likely will start the 2003 season as a backup to Tommy Maddox. Stewart and his agent, Leigh Steinberg, are opposed to a trade.
"It's a classy move," Steinberg told the paper. "It's reflective of the way the Rooneys have treated Kordell since his inception there. It will help Kordell's career. It will greatly simplify our efforts to find a new home for him. I've been expecting that this is what they would do."
Stewart was scheduled to make $6.3 million in salary next season, which would count $1.62 million against the cap because of a prorated salary bonus he received in 1999. As a vested veteran, Stewart would not go through waivers and would become an unrestricted free agent when released.
Possible suitors could include Baltimore, Chicago, Arizona, and Carolina, all of whom need quarterbacks. Stewart has said he would not go to a team that did not give him a chance to start.
Stewart has been the Steelers' starter since 1997 before losing his job to Maddox last season. He was voted to the Pro Bowl after the 2001 season, and was voted the team's Most Valuable Player.
Also, veteran offensive lineman John Jackson has announced his retirement.
Jackson, 38, did not play in 2002. He was released by the Cincinnati Bengals after an abnormal stress test on his heart. Later, he was cleared medically, but never latched on with another team.
"To me it's a great honor to come back here," Jackson said. "It's finishing what I started. "I am very thankful for Mr. Rooney and the Steelers organization for letting me do this because it means a lot to me. It means a lot to me to wear this championship ring. It means a lot to me being known as a Pittsburgh Steeler. I spent 10 years here and the first year wasn't that good. We got better as the years went on. I'm just grateful that the city enjoyed us and I enjoyed the city of Pittsburgh. I'm a lineman and I always keep things short, so this is pretty short. I felt I had to get it out of my system. Now, it's out of my system, and I don't want to play anymore."
Jackson was drafted by the Steelers in the 10th round in 1988 out of Eastern Kentucky. He signed with San Diego as a free agent in 1998 and played two seasons there. He finished his career playing with the Bengals in 2000 and 2001.
He played in 153 games, 130 starts, through 10 seasons in Pittsburgh.
Ferguson named Seattle GM
SEATTLE, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Bob Ferguson, fired recently by Arizona, Monday was hired as general manager of the Seattle Seahawks.
At Seattle, he has been asked to ease the burden on Mike Holmgren, who had been handling the dual role of coach-general manager with the Seahawks. Holmren was forced to relinquish his front office duties after a 7-9 finish this past season.
Ferguson, 51, had worked the last seven years with Arizona. He had been general manager there since 1999. The Cardinals missed the playoffs each of the last four seasons with a combined 21-43 record, including a 5-11 mark in 2002, and fired Ferguson on Jan. 6.
Ferguson's first draft pick as general manager was wide receiver David Boston, who made the Pro Bowl in 2001. However, in 2000, he selected running back Thomas Jones, who has been a major disappointment, in the first round.
Over the past two drafts, Ferguson has selected tackle Leonard Davis, defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, safety Adrian Wilson, placekicker Bill Gramatica, defensive tackle Wendell Bryant, and linebacker Levar Fisher.
Seattle will be relying on Ferguson to help build a defense after the Seahawks allowed 369 points this past season.
Despite that, Holmgren has been criticized for failing to help the defense. His first pick as general manager was end Lamar King, a first-rounder in 1999, who has been a major disappointment.
He spent a second-round pick on Ike Charlton in 2000, then traded him last season.
Ferguson, a native of Federal Way, Wash., served as Director of Sales and Special Events for the Seahawks from 1975-79. He spent 11 years with the Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos before joining the Cardinals in February 1996.
Ferguson held a variety of personnel positions before being promoted to assistant general manager in 1989. His decisions contributed to the drafting of players such as running back Thurman Thomas and linebacker Cornelius Bennett.
After his time in Buffalo, Ferguson was Director of Player Personnel for the Broncos from 1993-95. While in Denver, he was instrumental in drafting players like running back Terrell Davis, placekicker Jason Elam, and center Tom Nalen.
Mavericks activate two
DALLAS, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Forward Eduardo Najera and center Evan Eschmeyer, who have missed most of the season after undergoing knee surgeries, Tuesday were activated by the Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavericks opened the roster spots by placing guard Avery Johnson on the injured list with a right calf strain and forward Popeye Jones on the list with a right ankle sprain.
Najera returns after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Dec. 6. He has missed 33 games and averaged 8.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in the 15 games he has played.
He says he is eager to play again and to rejoin his teammates.
"They had forgotten about me a little bit," Najera told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I had to remind them."
"Najera gives us something that doesn't always end up in the stats, and that's his garbage type of mentality," forward Michael Finley told the paper. "By that I mean his willingness to do the dirty work for our team, get the rebounds, take the charges, be aggressive defensively and just give us that (physical) presence."
Eschmeyer underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in November that cleaned up cartilage and removed a tumor. He has appeared in just two games.
Jones is averaging 2.1 points in 21 games, and Johnson has averaged 3.7 points in 32 games.
Cleveland activates Coles
CLEVELAND, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Veteran guard Bimbo Coles of the Cleveland Cavaliers was activated from the injured list Tuesday after missing more than two months with a left quad contusion.
Coles, 34, was placed on the injured list on Dec. 9 and missed 31 games.
He has played in 18 games this season, averaging 5.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists in 26.2 minutes per contest. In three seasons with the Cavaliers, he is averaging 4.3 points and 2.6 assists in 112 games.
Orioles ink Helling
BALTIMORE, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Rick Helling, who has posted at least 10 wins in each of the last five seasons, has signed a minor league contract with the Baltimore Orioles.
He will compete for a job in the rotation during spring training.
Financial terms of deal were not disclosed, but according to the Baltimore Sun, Helling made $6.5 million in an incentive-laden deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2002.
"This offseason tested Rick, as it did a lot of established players," Helling's agent, Jeff Moorad, told the paper. "In the end, we certainly hoped he would be paid at a more significant level. But Rick Helling would be the last person to complain about a seven-figure salary, and he looks forward to contributing for the Orioles."
The 32-year-old righthander is 82-70 in nine seasons, but was a disappointing 10-12 with a 4.51 ERA last season. It marked the first time since he became a full-time starter in 1997 that he endured a losing record.
After a rough beginning to 2002, Helling did post a 3.05 ERA over his last 20 starts. He returns to the American League, where he went 64-44 with Texas from 1997-2001. In 1998, he tied for the AL lead in wins with 20.
"Rick is a durable veteran who provides us added starting pitching depth at no risk," said Orioles Vice President Mike Flanagan. "He is a proven winner with experience who takes the ball every fifth day."
Helling debuted with Texas in 1994, was traded to Florida in 1996, and returned to the Rangers the following season. He made his first major league start at Camden Yards in Baltimore in 1994.
Expos ink Hernandez
MONTREAL, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Less than a month after acquiring Orlando Hernandez, the Montreal Expos Monday agreed to terms with the veteran Cuban righthander on a one-year contract.
Financial terms were not disclosed.
Hernandez was asking for $4.5 million in arbitration. The Expos offered $4 million.
Montreal acquired Hernandez on Jan. 15 along with pitcher Rocky Biddle, infielder-outfielder Jeff Liefer, and an undisclosed amount of cash from the Chicago White Sox in a three-team trade involving the New York Yankees.
Nicknamed "El Duque," Hernandez, 33, is best known for his postseason prowess with the Yankees, going 9-3 in 16 appearances, including 13 starts.
Hernandez posted a 53-38 record with a 4.04 ERA in five seasons with the Yankees. Last year, he went 8-5 with a 3.64 ERA and one save in 24 games, including 22 starts.
The older half-brother of San Francisco's Livan Hernandez, "El Duque" starred for the Cuban national team, compiling a 129-47 record before joining the Yankees in 1998.
Pitcher Javier Vazquez is the only Expo who remains eligible for salary arbitration. He is asking for $7.15 million while the Expos are offering $6 million.
Leafs to go to Sweden, Finland
NEW YORK, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- The Toronto Maple Leafs will travel to Stockholm, Sweden and Helsinki, Finland in September to play in three preseason games as part of "NHL Challenge 2003."
The NHL announced Tuesday that the Maple Leafs have accepted an invitation to become the latest NHL team to play some preseason games overseas. The Colorado Avalanche competed in "NHL Challenge 2001," one year after the Vancouver Canucks made the trip.
The trip to Stockholm will mark a homecoming for Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin, who returns for the first time in an NHL uniform and will face his former team, Djurgarden Hockey Club.
"This is an opportunity to once again showcase the NHL in front of a live international audience," said Ken Yaffe, Vice President and Managing Director of NHL International. "Not only will this be a memorable experience for the players of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it is also a unique opportunity for members of the participating Swedish and Finnish teams to compete against some of the greatest players in the game."
The Maple Leafs will hold a four-day training camp in Stockholm from Sept. 12-15, and will play the Jokerit of the Finnish Hockey League on Tuesday, Sept. 16.
Toronto will play Djurgarden on Thursday, Sept. 18, and Farjestad, the 2001 Swedish Hockey League champion, on Friday, Sept. 19.
Sundin, an eight-time All-Star, is the NHL's all-time leading goal scorer among Swedish-born players.