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Not So Fast; Martz Says Warner Isn't Gone Yet
According to Associated Press sports writer R.B. Fallstrom, Rams head coach Mike Martz said Wednesday that Kurt Warner's agent overreacted to a conversation he had with the quarterback, and emphasized there's still a chance the two-time MVP could stay with the team.

In case you missed it, reports emanating from team headquarters late Monday and early Tuesday made it sound as if Warner's departure was "all but" official.

As St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat man Jim Thomas initially reported it Monday night: "Marc Bulger is the Rams' future at quarterback, and Kurt Warner has one foot out the door.

"That has become almost a foregone conclusion as the weeks have gone by this offseason. But on Monday it became official. Or at least, all but official."

Thomas went on to advise readers that Martz sat down with Bulger on Monday and informed him that he would be the Rams' starting quarterback in 2004.

In a separate Monday meeting, Martz sat down with Warner, informed him of the decision to go with Bulger and told Warner that he would probably be a cap casualty after June 1. According to Thomas, Martz left "only a sliver" of hope for Warner's return to St. Louis, saying that any post-June 1 release could be contingent on the Rams' ability to sign Bulger to a long-term deal.

And Thomas wasn't the only one reporting it like that.

In an article published early Tuesday, Fallstrom wrote: "Kurt Warner's storybook career with the St. Louis Rams is all but over."

But it now appears all involved should have placed greater emphasis on the "all but" -- something Martz made clear Wednesday afternoon when he characterized his Monday conversation with Warner as a necessary "first step" in the process after he decided to go with Bulger as his quarterback for next season.

He said he had promised Warner and his agent, Mark Bartelstein, that he would inform him when he had made a decision.

"It was a very difficult conversation, the hardest one I've ever had with a player," Martz said. "He asked what his future was. I think from that point on it just kind of took on a life of its own."

Bartelstein told reporters on Tuesday his client expected to be released after June 1 and added he expected a lot of interest around the NFL in Warner.

According to Fallstrom, Martz blames himself for not making it clear to Warner that he still could be back. He also said he expects Warner to continue participating in offseason workouts and mini-camps.

"I'm afraid in my discussions with Kurt that I got carried away and led him to believe this was it," Martz said.

None of which, of course, precludes Warner from getting an apple and a road map at some point after June 1.

But as Martz noted, discussions on a long-term contract with Bulger could impact what happens.

For what it's worth, Martz declined to discuss his reasoning for going with Bulger.

"There's a lot of things involved with that, a lot of factors, and I think that's something that's better left unsaid," the coach said. "Obviously, it took a great deal of time to come to that conclusion."

The team wasn't happy with Warner's Super Bowl Sunday speech in Houston in which he said the Rams told him to concentrate more on the playbook than the Bible.

Warner's wife caused a stir in 2002 when she asserted that she had asked the Rams to X-ray her husband's injured hand when Martz had taken credit for it in a news conference. Last September Brenda Warner told a local radio station that a trade would be welcomed if her husband remained on the bench.

But Martz said his relationship with Warner has not been affected.

"Kurt is one of the classiest people you'd ever meet," Martz said. "People want to make this into a difficult situation where there's something between Kurt and I, and Kurt would be the first one to tell you that's not the case.

"People have a real misunderstanding about our relationship and it's really unfortunate. It's never changed, it's never wavered."

Martz said he wasn't mad at Bartelstein either.

"People are people," Martz said. "He just got overzealous trying to represent Kurt. That's his job."

In the meantime, this story has fueled considerable speculation regarding potential suitors if/when Warner hits the open market.

As Thomas suggested Monday, the 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 coming off a Pro Bowl season and Todd Collins progressing nicely as Green's backup.

"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.

Chicago and Denver were the teams most interested in Warner a year ago, when the Rams were deciding whether to pay him a $6 million option bonus.

In Denver, Danny Kanell is the sole backup to Jake Plummer and head coach Mike Shanahan has long been an admirer of Warner. But Plummer played well enough last season to help get the Broncos into the playoffs for only the second time since John Elway's retirement.

In Chicago, new head coach Lovie Smith is committed to second-year player Rex Grossman as the starter but has unproven Jonathan Quinn as his lone backup.

It's also worth noting only three NFL teams run the offensive system leading to Warner's initial success in St. Louis, and the Bears -- with the addition of former Kansas City quarterbacks coach Terry Shea as offensive coordinator -- are one of them.

San Francisco, Oakland and Dallas have also been mentioned as possible destinations for the former Arena League and NFL-Europe standout. By the way. ... Warner and Bartelstein have permission to seek trades with interested parties.