The Ravens traded for Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh yesterday, a move that could have even further impact on the organization because it may lead to the signing of Tampa Bay running back Errict Rhett and the departure of former starting quarterback Vinny Testaverde.
The Ravens traded a third-round draft pick to the Colts, and then flopped picks with Indianapolis in the fourth round. The Ravens will pick first in the fourth round and Indianapolis 10th. The second part of the equation is vital because Tampa Bay wanted a fourth-round pick for the disgruntled Rhett, 27, and now the Buccaneers would have the top pick in the round if they trade with the Ravens.
Rhett's agent, Eugene Parker, did not return calls yesterday.
"We're going to hear something on that soon, we hope," said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda.
According to Ravens owner Art Modell, the team will pick up Harbaugh's contract that will pay him a base salary of $2.5 million in 1998 and $3.25 million in 1999. Harbaugh, 34, will be reunited with Marchibroda, the former Indianapolis coach who with Harbaugh brought the Colts within a Hail Mary touchdown pass of going to the 1995 Super Bowl. Indianapolis lost to Pittsburgh, 20-16, in the AFC championship game.
Marchibroda hedged on saying that Harbaugh was the team's starting quarterback yesterday, but strongly hinted that he was leaning that way even though Testaverde has three years and $15 million left on his contract.
Sources close to Testaverde have said he would ask to be traded or work out an arrangement not to play in Baltimore next season if the team signed another starting quarterback. Harbaugh said he knew he was on the trading block shortly after Indianapolis' season ended in late December.
"Well, this morning I got the news I was traded to Baltimore," Harbaugh said. "I had a gut feeling I was going to be traded all along, but it's still a shock. But the more I think about it, the more excited I get. I have a good history with Coach Marchibroda, I've played my best football with Ted.
"I have the whole off-season to get to know my teammates and I know they are a good young team with a good offensive line," he said. "I know what to expect from Ted and he has a great knowledge of the game. The thing in Indy, he just said, 'Let 'er rip.' I hope to hear him say that again."
Marchibroda said: "Jim is an outstanding quarterback. He has been in the playoffs in two of his last three seasons, and I have to say he will play a whole lot. He is a fine passer and plays well
outside the pocket. He can take a hit and brings toughness and leadership to the Ravens. I think the fans of Baltimore will be able to identify with this type of guy."
Image and public relations may have played a part in the team's decision to choose Harbaugh over the Ravens bringing former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly out of a one-year retirement. Salary demands as well as attitudes and mobility also were critical factors.
Kelly and Harbaugh were two of the team's four options, but lately the team seemed to sour on possibly trading up in the draft for either Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf or Tennessee's Peyton Manning as well as trading for Carolina's Kerry Collins.
The team had high hopes for Kelly, 38, but the former Pro Bowl quarterback never gained much of a fan support base in Baltimore with the team heading into a new publicly funded stadium. Privately, several Ravens' front-office members were critical of the way his agent and brother, Dan Kelly, handled the talks with the team and called them "overly aggressive."
Jim Kelly reportedly wanted a three-year contract worth $1.5 million each year in base salary and a signing bonus of $5 million. He also wanted a "no-benching clause" for the first season. Harbaugh came at nearly the same price as Kelly's signing bonus.
"From the games we watched where he [Harbaugh] played and was able to finish them, he played extremely well," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel. "Jim has been to the AFC championship game, he has been to the playoffs. He is familiar with our system and has a passion for the game. This came out to be the best deal for the Ravens."
Both Newsome and Modell hinted that Kelly's desire to play might have been questionable. Modell recently said he was concerned about Kelly's statement about possibly not returning after seeing Detroit quarterback Scott Mitchell leave the game with a concussion. Kelly also has a son Hunter, who has been diagnosed with Krabbe's disease, which forced him to deliberate on a decision to return again for months.
And then there is his mobility.
Kelly has little and was bothered by injuries late in his career. Harbaugh is known to pass on the run and improvise, which is critical for a team that plays in the AFC Central where two of the teams, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, use zone blitz schemes. Marchibroda has emphasized using more sprint and rollout passes next season.