Morris gets 120 days team quiet

Modell only will say he's free agent after probation violation

Judge warns of 10-year term

Raven: 'Reality going to hit Bam real fast'

January 13, 1998|By Mike Preston and Gary Lambrecht | Mike Preston and Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Joan Jacobson contributed to this article.

Ravens running back Bam Morris was given a 120-day jail sentence yesterday and there are strong indications the team's leading rusher of the past two seasons will not be re-signed for the 1998 season.

Morris is one of the Ravens' eight unrestricted free agents and team officials were eagerly awaiting the outcome of his hearing yesterday in Rockwall County, Texas, on charges that he violated his six-year probation on a 1996 marijuana possession conviction by missing seven meetings with his probation officer, consumed alcohol and assaulted a Dallas woman at a Nov. 16 birthday party in Woodlawn.

State District Judge Sue Pirtle ordered Morris to serve four months of his 10-year sentence in the Rockwall County jail and said he would automatically be imprisoned for the remainder of his 10-year sentence if he violated probation again.

"It may look like you're getting off, but if you don't report to all meetings [or] if you are involved with drugs or even alcohol, you have a sentence for 10 years already in place," Pirtle said. "If you stay straight for nine years and 364 days and come back here on day 365, you'll still go to prison."

Pirtle also sentenced him to 300 hours of community service in Rockwall County and fined him $2,000 after Morris admitted yesterday to missing four 1996 meetings with his probation officer and three in 1997.

Morris, who turns 26 today, initially received the probation in June of 1996. He was arrested three months before when a state trooper found 6 pounds of marijuana in the trunk of his car. As part of his plea bargain, cocaine possession charges (reportedly 1 1/2 grams) were dropped.

"Bam Morris has had his due process and the court has spoken," Ravens owner Art Modell said in a prepared statement. "He has been held accountable for his actions. At this time we will not address his potential future with the Ravens. He is an unrestricted free agent."

Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda and his staff were in Mobile, Ala., coaching the North squad in preparation for the Senior Bowl, and Marchibroda was unavailable for comment. But privately several club officials said the team would not pursue Morris because of his problems on and off the field.

Morris missed the first five games of 1996 because of a league suspension following his arrest and then he missed the first four games of this past season because he violated the league's policy on substance and alcohol abuse. Ravens officials confirmed the substance was beer.

Morris also had a weight problem and team officials believe he could gain 30 to 40 pounds from his 250-pound playing weight while incarcerated.

"The Bam I knew in the locker room, the one that had a place to go and couldn't get in trouble, was happy all the time and as players go, we were good friends," said Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde. "But off the field, Bam always seemed to find trouble or trouble always found him.

"Was he a distraction? I often looked at it as a player getting injured when he would miss three or four games," said Testaverde. "There is always an aftershock when that happened because it was like he was getting different treatment. Maybe it didn't matter to some of the veteran players, but I think it affected some of the younger guys who would be out there busting their butts and then have Bam come back as a starter after missing four games. Yes, in that sense, it was a distraction."

The Ravens now have only three running backs on the roster but it's unlikely any of them would be in the feature role. Veteran Earnest Byner performed well this season, but, at age 36 next fall, probably couldn't handle the 16-game schedule. Rookie Jay Graham seemed to be the heir apparent to Morris last season, but there are questions about his durability after he injured his ankle in the 10th game of the season and barely played in the remaining games. That would leave only rookie Priest Holmes, who didn't have a carry last season.

The Ravens have a number of options, including a trade for a player like Tampa Bay's Errict Rhett or pursuing free agents such as Green Bay's Dorsey Levens, Minnesota's Robert Smith or Philadelphia's Ricky Watters. The Ravens have the 10th pick in the draft and might be able to land a back such as Penn State's Curtis Enis or Nebraska's Ahman Green.

"We'll keep our options open," said Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel.

Keith Wheeler, Morris' attorney, and district attorney Ray

Sumrow began plea bargaining last week. The judge warned Morris of the consequences of the settlement.

"I know that you have many agents and other people who try to protect you, but if you come back here, there will be no one who can protect you from this," Pirtle said. "If you don't think you can stay straight for 10 years, you're making a big mistake."

After the sentencing, Morris hugged his mother and another woman in the courtroom, before being led away in handcuffs.

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