No. 1 snag could sack QB deal

Ravens' failure to yield top draft pick this year keeps Johnson at bay

Vikings reject '00 top choice

Billick wants Williams, Brown back on line

February 09, 1999|By MIKE PRESTON | MIKE PRESTON,SUN STAFF

The Minnesota Vikings apparently have hit a snag over acquiring the Ravens' top pick in the NFL draft in April in exchange for quarterback Brad Johnson. The Ravens' front office and coaching staff will meet today to try to find another way to obtain the seven-year veteran.

According to a league source, the Ravens have offered the Vikings three different proposals, including the team's second-round draft pick in 1999 and the No. 1 pick in 2000. The Vikings are willing to take second- and third-round picks in either of the next two drafts as part of the package, but they want the Ravens' top pick in April, No. 10 overall. As of last night, the Ravens were unwilling to part with the pick.

Also yesterday, Ravens coach Brian Billick said he would like to have both of the team's unrestricted free-agent offensive linemen, center Wally Williams and tackle Orlando Brown, re-signed for next season.

"I imagine they would want that, giving up a top 10 pick for a quarterback," said Billick. "But that's an awfully steep price. Ozzie [vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome] and I haven't had a chance to sit down and discuss their latest proposal. We're not ready at this point to tentatively say how we can use this pick, but evidently it has a lot of worth. We have parameters, have criteria where things have to fall into place. I'm in the market for a house right now and we have to come to a common ground or I'll move on to another house or they'll move on to another client. The same thing applies here."

Ravens owner Art Modell said: "We're going to meet as a whole staff Tuesday and Wednesday and by Wednesday afternoon, we'll make some judgments."

Despite a reported seven teams having interest in Johnson, the Ravens seem to have the best shot at signing him. Cleveland, Philadelphia and Cincinnati are all in the market for a quarterback, but they have the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 picks in the draft and are assured of being in position to select a "franchise" quarterback.

Washington, at No. 5, could use quarterback help but its ownership status is in doubt so the Redskins might be unwilling to trade. St. Louis coach Dick Vermeil has already publicly stated he will not trade away his No. 1 pick at the sixth position. That leaves the Ravens and Seattle, which is at No. 17 in the first round.

That's a major jump from No. 10.

"If our No. 1 pick is the top thing Minnesota covets, then we're in position," said Billick.

Billick is cautious talking about the Johnson deal because the team still may have to play former starter Jim Harbaugh. Billick said Johnson is just one option the Ravens will explore. He reiterated that Harbaugh has not been ruled out.

"There is a time for play and a time for pay," said Billick. "Now is the time for pay and the time for play comes later. We're going to explore every option to help us become a better football team, and not just at quarterback. There are a lot of options out there, some more viable than others.

"You can't fault players because they want to take a look and see what's available on the market. If Wally Williams or Orlando Brown want to shop around, it doesn't mean they are unhappy with Baltimore. In comparison, just because we take a look at somebody doesn't mean we're unhappy with the players we have under contract at that position."

Billick said he has watched offensive game film from a year ago and was impressed with both Williams and Brown. Williams, who held out of training camp for nearly six weeks because of contract negotiations, started off slowly but played well down the stretch. Brown had perhaps his worst season of the three in Baltimore.

"We're making an effort to keep them as part of the Ravens," said Billick. "There are other things you have to take into consideration such as the time of the year and injuries. I was impressed with both of them and I think our offensive line will be in good shape."

Tom Condon, the agent for both Williams and Brown, was unavailable to comment, but there is a chance the Ravens could designate Brown the franchise player, which means they would have to pay him the average salary of the top five offensive linemen in the league.

"It's been pretty quiet, I haven't heard a thing," said Williams. "Most of the focus has been on other moves. We're waiting and we'll see what happens."

Besides quarterback, the Ravens have a need for wide receiver, fullback and secondary help. The Ravens may look to the NFC Central for fullback help at Green Bay's William Henderson or Minnesota's Charles Evans. The Ravens also like Vikings safety Robert Griffin and Kansas City cornerback Dale Carter.

NOTES: Billick completed his staff yesterday, hiring three assistants.

Jim Colletto, 54, who spent the last two seasons as offensive coordinator and tight ends coach at Notre Dame, will join the Ravens as offensive line coach.

New defensive line coach Rex Ryan, 36, spent the 1998 season as Oklahoma's defensive coordinator.

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