If dollars are right, Kelly idea makes sense

January 20, 1998|By John Eisenberg

What about Jim Kelly? That's one of the big questions being debated in the Ravens' offices these days.

On the surface, bringing in the former Bills quarterback, who has been out of football for a year, is a terrible idea.

And yet, there also is a way that it almost makes sense.

The Ravens should consider it, but only if they can get Kelly on their terms and only if they don't see him as the answer to their quarterback dilemma.

It all depends on the Ravens' approach, meaning how cheaply they can get him and how much (or how little) they expect.

If they think he's the answer at quarterback, forget it.

They need better play at the position, but Kelly, who will be 38 next month, is an obvious stab at a quick fix instead of a long-term solution, and teams that try quick fixes at quarterback never go far. The final stages of the NFL playoffs prove that every year.

Kelly was a terrific player for a long time with his quick delivery, accurate arm and legendary intensity, but his drop-backs were slower and his arm was weaker when he retired a year ago, and anyone who thinks he can come back and contribute is just guessing.

No one, not even Kelly himself, knows if he can still play.

The Ravens thus can't expect anything from him, particularly because defenses are blitzing more and more and Kelly was a virtual statue by the end of his career, causing him to take a terrible beating.

Mobile quarterbacks are the way of the future, as the answer to all that blitzing; immobile pocket passers, even great ones such as Dan Marino, are struggling in today's NFL.

Kelly had his day, but he doesn't fit the latest prototype.

RTC So why should the Ravens even contemplate signing him?

Why should they even discuss him when they really need new, young blood at the position?

Because chances are slim that they'll pull off a deal to trade up for Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf; the bidding for those prized draft picks probably will drive the price through the ceiling, too high for a team that needs help in so many places, as do the Ravens.

And even if they did somehow land a hot rookie, they couldn't just throw him into the starting lineup and leave him there. They'd need backup plans.

Either way, they're going to need as many options as possible at quarterback. It's not as if incumbents Vinny Testaverde or Eric Zeier has nailed down the starting job.

Kelly could be an interesting, no-lose option, if the price is right.

That "right" price is a cheap, one-year deal that doesn't amount to a commitment.

The Ravens would have nothing to lose then, and, well, why not give Kelly a look if there's nothing to lose?

He could bring some interesting qualities to the mix, despite his age.

For starters, he would provide qualified competition for Testaverde and Zeier, if both are still here. (Zeier is a restricted free agent, and Testaverde probably would want to leave if Kelly came.)

There's little doubt Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda mentioned Kelly's name late last season in part to motivate Testaverde, who, team sources say, practiced better after he was benched in December and Kelly's name was mentioned.

Kelly also was a fiery on-field leader and a winner (except in Super Bowls) for the Bills, and the Ravens, with their 10-21-1 record, certainly could stand to have someone set such an example.

He also possibly could still win some games, and, let's face it, the Ravens will need to win more when they move to Camden Yards next season and interest grows.

Sure, a long-term solution at quarterback always is preferable to a quick fix, but if this isn't the year for the Ravens to find that long-term solution, it would be nice if they could at least pay back their fans with a few more wins.

If it wouldn't hurt them monetarily to bring in Kelly, expecting nothing, while they work on a long-term solution, why not try it and see if a pleasant surprise developed?

Whether Kelly will come cheaply is the issue, of course. He made $2.75 million in his last year in Buffalo, which is way more than the Ravens should spend. He doesn't need more money now, but he wants to promote the charity named after his young son, Hunter, who suffers from leukodystrophy, a degenerative genetic disorder.

Kelly said last month that he had heard from several teams, and there is talk that he might solicit bids and see how high the offers go.

If the Ravens find themselves in any semblance of a bidding war, forget it.

If they find themselves contemplating anything more than a one-year, incentive-laden deal, forget it.

They should never see Kelly as anything other than a Band-Aid -- and Band-Aids don't cost much.

But if they can get him so cheaply that he amounts to a no-risk venture with some short-term upside possibilities, well, what do they have to lose?

Pub Date: 1/20/98

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