Warner's release planned after June 1
Two-time NFL most valuable player Kurt Warner, whose career deteriorated over the past two seasons because of a series of injuries and inconsistency, will be released by the St. Louis Rams after June 1.
Warner's agent, Mark Bartelstein, was informed Monday by Rams coach Mike Martz of the team's decision.
League and team sources confirmed the move to ESPN.com. It was first reported by the New York Daily News and St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
"It was a dream job for 20 long years in my life," Warner said. "I'm indebted to them. I loved my time there. I loved the coaches and I love the players."
The Rams also granted Warner and his representatives permission to begin talking with other teams, although the six-year veteran won't technically be freed from his contract for at least six more weeks.
"We're trying to find the right place and the right situation," Bartelstein told the Daily News. "Kurt is in great shape, he's as healthy as can be and ready to have a terrific season."
Bartelstein said Warner doesn't necessarily have to go to a team where he can start.
"Does he have to find a starting job to be happy? We're going to keep an open mind," Bartelstein said. "Most teams today have their starting quarterback set."
But, Bartelstein told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "He's too good of a quarterback to sit on the bench," and he expects a lot of interest in Warner from other teams.
Despite a spate of non-denial denials from team officials this offeason, the decision to cut ties with Warner is hardly surprising. St. Louis is currently in negotiations with the agents for three-year veteran Marc Bulger on a long-term contract and this month signed veteran Chris Chandler to serve as a backup.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Martz did leave a sliver of hope that Warner could return, contingent on the Rams' ability to sign Bulger. The paper reported that Jay Zygmunt, Rams president of football operations, has met on a preliminary basis with Tom Condon, Bulger's agent.
"We could hold on to this and hold on to this, but we're trying to be fair with Kurt," Martz told the Post-Dispatch. "I made a promise to him that we would let him know as soon as we knew. ... We've just taken the first step. That's all this amounts to. Now, we'll see where it goes."
The move will free up approximately $4.85 million in 2004 cap room for the Rams. The club will still have to carry $4.61 million in so-called "dead money," cap room devoted to a player no longer on the roster, against its spending limit for 2004. Warner's current cap number, however, is a whopping $9.467 million, an exorbitant amount for a player who was not going to win the starting job.
St. Louis will also have to absorb a cap hit of $6.723 million in 2005. Warner is under contract through the 2006 season.
The Rams also will likely select a quarterback in this weekend's draft.
Warner, 32, proved an incredible rags-to-riches tale. The one-time journeyman out of Northern Iowa emerged from stints in the Arena Football League and the NFL Europe League to lead St. Louis to a Super Bowl XXXIV victory in 1999. He captured league MVP honors that season and also in 2001.
But injuries caught up to Warner the past two seasons, his playing time was reduced and his productivity waned. He started only one game in 2003 and made two appearances.
He lost his starting job to Bulger after fumbling six times in the Rams' opener against the New York Giants last season. It was learned after the game the Warner was playing with a concussion.
Martz replaced Warner with Bulger the next week, and Warner never returned to the starting lineup.
His career includes 1,121 completions in 1,688 attempts, for 14,447 yards, with 102 touchdown passes and 65 interceptions.
The Kansas City Chiefs would seem a logical destination for Warner, given that Dick Vermeil gave him his first shot and now coaches in Kansas City. But Vermeil said he's set at the position with Trent Green going to the Pro Bowl last year and backup Todd Collins.
"Another time, another day, I would have been interested in acquiring him," Vermeil said. "I never second-guess what another team does with their people and especially with the Rams, because I know those people and care about them.
"But he's only 32. I can't believe he can't play."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.