Purple-colored glasses blur Modell's vision

March 03, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

The new cornerback is past his prime. The new fullback has a history of weight and substance-abuse problems. The new quarterback was the second choice to the washed-up, retired Jim Kelly.

But what, Art Modell worry?

"We're on the verge of a major breakthrough," the Ravens owner said yesterday. "You can criticize me all you want for saying we'll be an elite team in 1998. I'm not sure we're not going to be. You wrote me off quickly on that one."

Yes we did, Art.

And in grand newspaper tradition, we stand by our story.

"It's not fair for you or me to prejudge that in the abstract," Modell said. "We've got to see what happens. I like what I see. My coaches like what they see. The town likes what it sees."

Super Bowl, here we come!

Yes, the Ravens are better. But even their top acquisitions -- quarterback Jim Harbaugh and running back Errict Rhett -- are veteran retreads, not established stars.

Yes, their offense should improve. But their defensive line is creaky, their secondary is leaky and their owner continues to suffer from delusions of grandeur.

Oh, Modell was downright feisty yesterday, arguing that the Ravens' 10-21-1 record the past two seasons was merely an optical illusion.

"You cannot match our drafts of the last two years, despite our record," Modell said. "I wrote it down, knowing you're going to get into the subject."

Actually, we had an even better question:

How is it that the hated Redskins can address a major need by plunging big money into two defensive tackles, while the Ravens' idea of secondary help is Rod Woodson?

Antonio Langham is an average cornerback, but if the Ravens lose him, they would be even worse than before -- a frightening thought, considering they ranked 30th and 28th in pass defense the past two seasons.

The San Francisco 49ers didn't want Woodson, yet they're hot after Langham. The Pittsburgh Steelers quit on Woodson two years ago, and their track record judging talent is fairly impeccable.

The Ravens?

They're prepared to give this 32-year-old relic a $3 million signing bonus -- that is, if he passes his physical and avoids becoming this year's Brock Marion.

By the end of today, the Ravens could be without both Woodson and Langham and facing unrestricted free agency with center Wally Williams.

The chances of all that happening are slim.

But with the Ravens, anything is possible.

They're out of salary-cap jail. They're about to reap the rewards of a new stadium and new NFL television contract. And they're still taking baby steps instead of quantum leaps.

The Redskins' run defense ranked as poorly as the Ravens' pass defense the past two seasons. But their solution was to commit $13 million in signing bonuses for Dana Stubblefield, 27, and Dan Wilkinson, 24.

Maybe those moves will backfire -- the Redskins cleared salary-cap room by parting with offensive tackle Ed Simmons, and they've still got an unproven quarterback (Gus Frerotte) and injury-prone running back (Terry Allen).

The Ravens took the opposite approach, passing on free-agent cornerbacks Doug Evans (Carolina) and Jeff Burris (Indianapolis) when their prices grew too steep.

"We have other priorities. We prioritized our needs at the beginning [of the free-agent period]," Modell said. "It so happens I have them right here."

With that, Modell produced another list, noting that the Ravens took a "great step forward" at quarterback, re-signed tight end Eric Green and defensive tackle Larry Webster and revamped their backfield with Rhett and Roosevelt Potts.

Ah yes, Potts, the 260-pound fullback who was suspended for the 1996 season for violating the NFL's substance- and alcohol-abuse policy, and had all of two carries last season.

Another Bam Morris?

"I resent that bitterly," Modell said. "I know more about drug problems in professional sports than anyone. I started the Inner Circle [counseling group]. I've had problems.

"Some guys worked out, like Larry Webster. Others, like somebody else you know, didn't work

out. I've had family problems in that department. Don't tell me about drugs.

"A guy who paid his price, paid his debt to society is entitled to a second chance. Ted [Marchibroda] says we've got a hell of a player. If he misbehaves, his butt will be out of here in five minutes."

Just like Bam's was, right?

Actually, the more immediate concern is whether Potts is as good a fullback as Sam Gash, William Floyd or Tony Carter, the three players he rated behind in the free-agent market.

"We took Roosevelt Potts because my coach wanted Potts. That's good enough for me," Modell said. "We're not picking Boy Scouts to come here and play. We want good people, good football players.

"We're not saying, 'Let's take Gash because he doesn't have problems behind him.' No, I've got to go with the people who know him. I have absolute faith, unqualified faith in Ted Marchibroda and Ozzie Newsome."

If nothing else, Potts -- like Harbaugh and Rhett -- is an upgrade at his position. The Ravens, however, still must re-sign Williams and find replacements for wide receiver Derrick Alexander, left guard Leo Goeas and possibly Langham.

Even after all that, they still might not be playoff-caliber.

But don't tell that to Modell.

"This is going to be an outstanding football team in 1998," he said. "Elite? Not elite? That's for professionals like yourself to decide."

Moi?

"You're going to sit here a year from now and say, 'Art, you were right. Everything you said, you were right,' " Modell said.

And if you're wrong, Art?

"If I'm wrong, I'll be a guest columnist."

Dear reader, consider yourself warned.

Pub Date: 3/03/98

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