Ravens eye Kelly or draft deal Marchibroda to meet ex-Bill

Modell calls about trading up for QB

'Jim was a winner'

Testaverde will return either way, they say

January 01, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

The Ravens are taking a two-pronged approach to their top off-season priority: Coach Ted Marchibroda is expected to have preliminary talks with former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly in two to three weeks, and owner Art Modell is exploring trade options in the draft to select a franchise quarterback -- Tennessee's Peyton Manning or Washington State's Ryan Leaf.

There is internal debate about whether Kelly, who will be 38 in February, is the answer for the Ravens.

Meanwhile, Modell said yesterday that he has spoken with Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian about trading for their No. 1 overall pick in the April draft, and he will speak with Arizona Cardinals officials soon.

The Cardinals have the No. 2 pick in the draft. The Ravens have No. 10.

"I called Bill to tell him to keep us in mind, that if he wants to get out of the position, please give us a call," Modell said. "We'll do the same with Arizona because I'm not certain they want to select a quarterback."

Marchibroda denied published reports Dec. 12 that the Ravens had offered Kelly a three-year contract, but two days later suggested it was possible Kelly might come out of retirement.

Marchibroda worked with Kelly for five years (1987-1991) as the Bills' quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator. Kelly retired from the Bills last season after 11 years and four Super Bowl appearances. Kelly, who worked as a TV analyst this season, was unavailable to comment yesterday.

Marchibroda and most of his coaching staff reported back to work at the team's Owings Mills complex Tuesday.

Marchibroda said there was not unanimous approval for Kelly. Marchibroda, Modell and Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel, met at Modell's home on Christmas Eve to discuss several scenarios.

"The talks with Jim will be preliminary; there is nothing definite," Marchibroda said. "We'll have to see how this thing moves along. Jim has given us the impression that he feels fine, he can play again and win.

"I would hate to speculate, but I guess Jim sees the Dan Marinos, Newsome the Warren Moons, the John Elways and Randall Cunninghams still in the league and feels he can make the comeback. Marino and Elway came out the same year as Jim Kelly."

There are other pluses that Marchibroda likes about Kelly. The veteran knows Marchibroda's system and the Ravens believe they have an offensive line that can protect him. Marchibroda also likes Kelly's fiery leadership on the field, something the Ravens severely lacked last season.

The downside is that quite a few assistant coaches and scouts around the league say Kelly had lost a step in his drop-back and a lot of zip on his passes.

"I have to admit Jim took some beatings because he would hold the ball until the last minute and take a hit to make the throw," Marchibroda said. "But Jim was a winner, a consistent winner. He enjoyed playing on Sunday afternoons more than any other player.

"If he can help us win some football games, then we'll have to take a long look at that. We're certainly not looking at a long-term deal because of his age."

Marchibroda said Kelly would have to undergo a thorough physical as well as participate in workouts before the Ravens signed him, and game film from his last years in Buffalo would show if his skills had diminished to the point where the team would no longer be interested in him.

Both Marchibroda and Modell confirmed that if the team signed Kelly, they also would keep veteran Vinny Testaverde.

Testaverde was not happy about Marchibroda's decision to bench him during the final three games of the season for third-year player Eric Zeier, who won two of those games.

Testaverde, 34, has three years left on a contract that will pay him $4 million in 1998 ($1.5 million guaranteed), $5 million in 1999 and $6 million in 2000. Kelly made a base salary of $2.75 million in his last season with the Bills.

"Vinny is under contract, and he is still part of the equation here," Marchibroda said.

But there is little doubt that if the Ravens were to sign Kelly, Testaverde would demand a trade. And that might not be a bad option for the Ravens if the team wanted to have a veteran quarterback to teach a rookie.

"At this point, Vinny is under contract for the Baltimore Ravens and he expects to challenge and be the No. 1 quarterback for the Ravens next year regardless of if they talk to Jim Kelly, Randall Cunningham or Ryan Leaf -- it makes no difference," said Testaverde's agent, Mike Azzarelli.

Newsome said having Kelly and Testaverde on the roster would not create salary cap problems.

"If that is the best situation for us to win games, yes, we can have both players," Newsome said.

Newsome said he could not give an assessment of Kelly yet.

"I haven't followed him that closely," Newsome said. "A number of things will play a part in our final decision, such as the economics as well as the long-term and short-term effects on our quarterback situation.

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