Forget about Ricky -- really

GERRY PRINCE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

There aren't many NFL clubs with four quarterbacks on their active roster at this, or any other time of year.

Standard operating procedure dictates teams carry a starter, backup and third-stringer.

The New York Jets are the exception to the rule and have been ever since the decision was made to add former Edmonton Eskimos pivot Ricky Ray to their active roster.

Ray went from New York's practice squad to the active roster with eight games to play in the regular season.

He was on the roster again last Saturday for the AFC wildcard game featuring the Jets and San Diego Chargers.

And the 25-year-old will be in uniform when New York faces Pittsburgh in this week's AFC semifinal.

All things being equal, it's a good deal for six-foot-three, 210-pound Ray. But it's not particularly good news for Esks' fans or fans of the CFL.

Ray's impending CFL free-agent status could have touched off a substantial bidding war among the well-heeled clubs north of the border.

But because he's under contract to the Jets, Ray isn't in a position to sign with any CFL club this winter.

"He's an exclusive-rights player," explained Ray's agent Ken Staninger yesterday. "He's under contract for the 2005 season. Unless he's cut, he's going to be with the New York Jets. He signed a two-year deal."

ONLY A FEW TOUCHES

Apart from the few touches Ray gets when he occasionally runs the scout team offence during practice, the Sacramento State product hasn't played a down since the NFL pre-season.

Viewed as potential backup material or a third-stringer after using the CFL-NFL option play to sign south of the border last February, Ray was doomed to New York's practice roster after Quincy Carter joined the Jets midway through training camp.

An injury to New York starter Chad Pennington opened the door for Ray to come off the practice squad.

It was perhaps the fear of losing Ray to another NFL club via waivers which forced New York's braintrust to keep him on the active roster.

Staninger won't speculate about the Jets' motives but maintains his client is happier now than when he was languishing on the practice squad.

"I think he feels better about it and his pay cheques are a little bigger and that always makes a difference," the Montana-based agent said.

Staninger originally negotiated a four-year deal worth $7 and $7.5 million US had Ray been able to crack the Jets' lineup and trigger all the bonus clauses written into the pact.

A FULL CHEQUE

New York ponied up a $163,000 signing bonus and reportedly also paid half of Ray's $230,000 NFL minimum salary while he was on the practice squad.

On top of picking up a full cheque over the final eight weeks of the regular season, Ray will share in the post-season payout.

With more than one NFL club in need of quarterbacking help next season, the Jets' fears of losing Ray may not be unfounded.

Chicago, Washington, Tampa, Denver, Green Bay, Detroit, Arizona and Buffalo, among others, could all use varying degrees of help behind centre.

"There's some teams down here that are saying, 'Who do we turn to next?' " said Staninger. "I think there's reason to believe that he's going to be given another chance, even if it's not with the Jets."

Clearly, the phenom who took the CFL by storm during his rookie season and led Edmonton to its first Grey Cup title in a decade isn't likely to be back in the CFL any time soon.

While Staninger isn't ruling out Ray's return to the CFL it rates as a long shot at this point.

"You never say never," said Staninger. "But if he does return (to the CFL) it's not going to be (in 2005). I don't know why (the Jets) would keep him active and then cut him in the off-season.

"Weirder things have happened. But as long as the Jets don't cut him he will clearly be with them at least through training camp.

"Any player can get cut at any time. I wouldn't ever rule that out but it's probably not going to happen."


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