No, the split didn't take place before Tuesday's trading deadline, but the San Diego Chargers' biggest move of the day – acquiring A.J. Feeley and a seventh-round draft pick for third-string quarterback Cleo Lemon – foreshadows the inevitable. The Chargers hope Feeley's destiny is backing up whoever loses out in the Brees-Rivers appointment as the franchise's 2006 starter.
With Brees playing under the team's franchise tag and Rivers earning starting money – and both players insisting that they want a starting role next season – it was only a matter of time before general manager A.J. Smith laid the groundwork to deal one of his quality quarterbacks. The first logical step was figuring out who would become San Diego's next backup, and it wasn't going to be Lemon – the former practice squad quarterback who has virtually no game experience. That opened the door for the acquisition of Feeley, who lost a preseason battle for Miami's starting quarterback spot.
Brought to Miami in one of the worst deals engineered by former general manager Rick Spielman, Feeley never justified the second-round pick that the Dolphins used to acquire him from Philadelphia. His days in Miami were numbered from the moment new coach Nick Saban signed Gus Frerotte to compete for the team's starting job.
Now San Diego will get an extended look at Feeley and spend the next few months renegotiating his contract for the coming years. Feeley is slated to make an average base salary of $4.55 million over the next three years – which, considering his mediocre play, no team wants to pay. If the Chargers can't renegotiate the deal, or aren't sold on Feeley as a future backup by the end of the season, they can simply cut him at zero expense to the franchise.
Among the other moves before Tuesday's trade deadline:
If there was any question about starter Brian Griese's knee injury, Rattay's acquisition should confirm that he will be out for the rest of the season. On Tampa Bay's end, Rattay will be the insurance policy against Chris Simms, who hasn't been able to win the confidence of coach Jon Gruden since being tabbed in the third round of the 2003 draft. While the Buccaneers will likely paint Rattay as the team's No. 3 quarterback behind Simms and Luke McCown, he'll be the starter in waiting. It's up to Simms to hold him off.
For the San Francisco 49ers, Rattay's departure solves two brewing problems. It cements Alex Smith as the starter from this moment on – no matter how much he struggles – and it eliminates any possibility of locker room controversy, particularly among players who were disappointed when coach Mike Nolan benched Rattay in favor of Smith after only four games. The trade does, however, eliminate a veteran who at the very least, would have challenged Smith. The No. 1 pick's competition now must come from little-used backups Cody Pickett and Ken Dorsey.
Fonoti has been on the trade block since contract extension talks unraveled with the San Diego Chargers in September. Set to become a free agent this offseason, Fonoti told the Chargers that he planned on signing elsewhere after negotiations broke off. San Diego felt the 350-pound Fonoti became too much of a distraction when he left the team unexpectedly to seek a second opinion on a hand injury just before the team's win over New England.
Considered a good young talent, the 2002 second-round pick is essentially being rented by the Vikings, who have had a slew of problems along the offensive line since center Matt Birk's season-ending surgery in September. The Vikings will give up a sixth-round pick for Fonoti if he starts three games by the end of the season or dresses in at least six.