Ravens must draw a line after Morris

October 11, 1997|By JOHN EISENBERG

The issue is no longer whether the Ravens made a mistake when they signed Bam Morris.

The issue is whether they have learned from their ridiculous mistake of giving Morris a $1.8 million contract six months after he was arrested and charged with having almost 6 pounds of marijuana in the trunk of his car.

The issue is whether they're going to keep getting involved with players who already have a track record of making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Such moves are desperate, pathetic and usually wind up embarrassing management, hurting the team on the field and casting a foul odor that lingers over the entire franchise.

It's a foolish way to do business, pure and simple.

Memo to Ravens: Don't do it again.

You would like to think they know better after their experience with Morris, who is back in trouble again after spending yesterday in a Texas courtroom and coming away with a hearing set for November to determine whether he will go to jail for violating his probation.

But it's one thing to say they know better and another thing to resist the temptation of an easy fix for a major problem, as was the case with Morris and their feeble running game when they signed him a year ago.

We'll know the Ravens have learned from their mistake only if we see them begin limiting their personnel to players who don't plea-bargain felony convictions, flunk drug tests, violate their probation and get hauled into court.

That's the rundown of Morris' off-field problems, which continue to damage the franchise in, well, let us count the ways.

For starters, it's kind of hard to develop any consistency in your running game when your No. 1 runner keeps getting yanked away and spanked by various authorities for various transgressions.

The coaches can't give Morris the practice work he needs because he was suspended for the first month of the season and now he has to fly off and deal with more pressing issues, such as staying out of jail.

Oh, that.

Make no mistake, Morris has become a pawn in a dispute between the police in Rockwall County, Texas, and the NFL, which refused to release the results of the drug test that the league said Morris flunked earlier this year. The district attorney is angry, which could be part of the reason Morris was back in court yesterday, his future in jeopardy.

Still, Morris' problems are numerous and of his doing, and it's impossible to feel sorry for him.

The Ravens want to depend on him because of his obvious talents, but they just can't depend on him because, well, he's busy.

Meanwhile, they don't have a running game, which means they can't control the clock, which means it's tough to hold a lead, which means that Morris' problems cut right to the heart of what ails the Ravens on Sunday afternoons.

In other words, this isn't just a moral issue, it's a football issue -- and a big one, at that.

If the Ravens fail to recognize that and continue to take chances on such players, they're going to continue to get what they deserve.

They're going to get mounting problems off the field and mounting losses on the field.

They should also recognize that a continuing spray of negative headlines undermines everything they're doing as they plant roots in a new city and try to grow a following.

It gives them an outlaw's countenance, the air of a franchise that will stoop to low-class measures to win.

It makes them look seedy, in other words, whether that's fair or not.

An outlaw image may have worked as a motivating force for the Raiders two decades ago, but it won't work now.

The Ravens need more class and character, not less.

Coach Ted Marchibroda complained loudly about a lack of leadership last year, and there still are grumblings in the organization about needing more players setting the right examples.

It wasn't a coincidence that the Steelers showed character when they released Morris after he was busted last year, and also showed character in coming back from 21 points down to beat the Ravens last Sunday.

It's called having standards.

The Steelers drew the line on a questionable player, and they also have won four of the past five AFC Central titles.

The Ravens didn't draw the line, and their franchise has made just one playoff appearance in the '90s.

Enough said?

That's not to say the Steelers don't have off-field problems, too, because all teams do.

But when there's a limit to what a team will stand for -- and getting caught with almost 6 pounds of marijuana seems like a pretty good limit -- an air of respectability permeates the franchise and wafts onto the field.

On the other hand, it doesn't take many negative headlines to make everyone look bad, as the Dallas Cowboys have learned.

Put simply, Morris is a distraction the Ravens don't need.

Not that they have anyone to blame but themselves.

They were the ones who signed him because they were desperate for a runner, regardless of the circumstances.

They're going to need another one now, that's for sure.

Morris can continue to play until his court date in November, and his presence might result in an extra win or two, but his chances of a job with the team beyond this year are slim.

How can you build any long-range plans around a guy who is constantly in trouble?

The Ravens learned that lesson the hard way with Morris.

Having made the mistake once, they had better not make it again.

Pub Date: 10/11/97

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