The Pittsburgh Steelers finally cut ties to Kordell Stewart on Wednesday, releasing the enigmatic quarterback who led them to two AFC title games but perplexed them with his inconsistency.
The move, a foregone conclusion for weeks, allows Stewart to become an unrestricted free agent and gets the Steelers under the 2003 salary cap, which kicks in this weekend.
The Steelers were about $2 million over the cap before waiving Stewart, but they clear $6.3 million of cap room -- Stewart's 2003 salary -- by letting him go. Stewart will count $1.62 million against the cap, as the prorated share of the signing bonus he got in 1998.
Stewart has known since he was benched early in the season for Tommy Maddox that the Steelers would trade or release him, and he said recently he welcomes the chance to start again in the NFL.
"I'm going to have a chance to win a championship, I'll promise you that,'' he said.Stewart was known as "Slash'' in his early days with the Steelers in the mid-1990s, when they used him as a multidimensional threat who would line up as a receiver on one play and a quarterback the next.
He took the Steelers to the AFC championship game in his first year as a starting quarterback in the 1997 season, but threw three interceptions in a 24-21 loss to John Elway-led Denver at Three Rivers Stadium.
He later lost his starting job twice -- at the end of a 6-10 season in 1999 and again at the start of the 2000 season as the Steelers missed the playoffs for three straight seasons. But he rebounded to unexpectedly lead the Steelers to a 13-3 record and the AFC title game in 2001, winning team MVP honors and making the Pro Bowl.
But, again, he threw three costly interceptions in an AFC championship game loss at home, this time to New England, and he was benched this past season after the Steelers lost their first two games and were in danger of losing a third.
He got off the bench only occasionally after Maddox came off the bench to rally the Steelers to a comeback victory against Cleveland on Sept. 29, starting and winning games against the Bengals and Jaguars when Maddox was hurt. But Maddox goes into the 2003 season as the starter, with his backup still to be determined.
"In order for us to comply with the salary cap, we are forced to make some very difficult decisions,'' coach Bill Cowher said Thursday. "He was a terrific player for us and always handled himself as a consummate professional. We wish Kordell all the best as he continues his NFL career.''
Cowher praised Stewart for remaining a team player last season and not publicly debating the decision to bench him, though Stewart was clearly stung and angered by the decision.
The 30-year-old Stewart leaves the Steelers with the second-most passing yards in Steelers history (13,328) and ranked 13th in rushing (2,561 yards).
Arizona, New Orleans, Baltimore, Carolina and Chicago might be among the teams interested in signing Stewart.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times