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With or Without You: Tight End Position in Flux

Posted May 17, 2004


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When Byron Chamberlain finalized the contract that allowed him to return to the Broncos late last week, he wasted little time in calling Shannon Sharpe to share the news.

As Chamberlain rang his friend, teammate of five seasons and career mentor a few days ago, he wasn't even aware of the offer that CBS reportedly made regarding an on-air position.

"I just called him to let him know I was coming back here and he gave me a heads-up on some of his plans," Chamberlain said Monday morning. "I knew nothing about it. I was down in Tampa working out (prior to visiting and signing with the Broncos). I hadn't even talked to Shannon in a while so I didn't know anything about any of his plans.

"He just told me he had an offer, and two good situations that he had to weigh. I don't know what he's going to do."

EDITOR'S NOTE: KCNC-Channel 4 -- a station owned and operated by CBS and the Broncos' television partner -- reported Monday that Sharpe accepted the offer.

Should Sharpe choose to return, Chamberlain would likely lose the opportunity to rack up the kinds of numbers he did during his Pro Bowl season with the Vikings, when he grabbed 57 passes for 666 yards and three scores, leading all NFC tight ends in receptions in 2001. If Sharpe retires, Chamberlain loses the chance to reunite with the man who helped make his 10 seasons in the NFL possible..

Playing time versus playing with Sharpe. To Chamberlain, there's no doubt about which is the more desirable option.

"I'm not torn. I would love Shannon to be part of this team and back here," Chamberlain said. "He's been an integral part of my success in my career, from being me around 10 years. I basically learned everything about the tight end position from him. He taught me how to be a professional and how to be a successful tight end in this league.

"We had that connection. We were both seventh-round picks from a small school coming to Denver as a receiver. And then we had a great personal relationship too."

Even though fellow free-agent signee Jed Weaver hasn't played a snap with Sharpe, he'd like the chance to compete for playing time with the 14-season veteran.

"Family and friends are like, 'What's up with Shannon?'' Weaver said. "If he retires, the spot's wide open, which is great, but if he doesn't, he's a Hall of Famer, the best tight end to ever play the game. You can learn so much from the guy. It's a great opportunity either way."

But if Sharpe runs an out route into retirement, the position breaks wide open between Chamberlain, Weaver, offseason acquisition O.J. Santiago, and holdovers Patrick Hape, Jeb Putzier and Mike Leach. None of the sextet plans to run and hide at the notion of a fierce scrum for playing time.

"Competition's only going to make you better. If we've got guys that can play here, I welcome it," Chamberlain said. I think back to teams that we had when we went to the Super Bowl; they were loaded with a lot of backup guys who could play ball, me being one of them."

When Weaver signed with the Broncos, he knew the situation was in flux -- as is virtually every personnel matter in a rapidly changing sport.

"In football, we always say 'Keep everything in pencil.' So it's always adjusting, always moving around," Weaver said. "However it plays out, whatever he decides, you go with it and you just hope you can fit in and try to help the team win more games than last season and get to the big game."

But Chamberlain knows who he would see winning the most playing time should Sharpe choose to retire.

"I see myself," he said. "And all those other guys see themselves."