Phillips, Ravens on `good' terms

Billick says meeting successful with back

more talks are likely

July 09, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Ravens coach Brian Billick said yesterday that his two-hour meeting with troubled running back Lawrence Phillips in Atlanta went well, and Phillips will probably visit Baltimore by the middle of next week to begin the second stage of talks that could result in him signing for the 1999 season.

Phillips, 24, is believed to have narrowed his list to four teams, and Billick said yesterday that the third-year player has already met or scheduled talks with head coaches from Green Bay, San Francisco and Buffalo. Billick thinks the Ravens are the front-runners, but said the team will await a decision by the league over whether Phillips violated the league's anti-violence policy.

In July 1998, Phillips was accused of punching a woman in the face at a suburban Miami nightclub after she refused to dance with him. Phillips was cut by the Dolphins during that season. He was sentenced to six months probation after pleading no-contest to a misdemeanor battery charge in that case.

According to league spokesman Greg Aiello, Phillips is expected to meet with league commissioner Paul Tagliabue next week, but is free to sign with any team. According to league policy, any player charged with a violent crime is required to undergo evaluation and counseling, and any player who admits guilt or is convicted is subject to discipline by the commissioner, which could result in a fine or suspension.

Phillips played for the Barcelona Dragons in NFL Europe during its just-completed season and gained 1,021 yards on 194 carries, the first player ever to gain more than 1,000 yards in that 10-game league. Billick said Phillips is undergoing counseling.

"I think with us, as well as the other teams involved, we'll be awaiting the decision by the league, if it's the first violation or the second, which might mean a suspension," Billick said. "Either way, we're probably looking into next week and the week after that before something is resolved, and that will take us right up to training camp. But I thought our meeting was good, and he is an engaging young man."

Billick said he went into the meeting without any preconceived ideas about Phillips. He didn't even call any of his former coaches.

"I wasn't here to do a psychoanalysis of him in two hours. I'm not a professional counselor or a therapist. This is a business decision," said Billick, minutes before he was to board a plane back to Minnesota. "There were a number of things that contributed to his past problems, but my purpose was not to focus on the past. I wanted to know if he was going to be accountable, if he took responsibility. He does. He has paid his dues or is in the process of paying them."

Ravens owner Art Modell and vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome were impressed with Phillips, dating back to a meeting in Baltimore between the three parties several months before the 1996 draft. At that time, the team thought about selecting Phillips with the No. 4 overall pick but later selected left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden.

Compared to other situations, which he would not be the starter, Phillips would most likely be penciled in the lineup right away in Baltimore ahead of third-year player Priest Holmes, Errict Rhett and Jay Graham. Holmes rushed for 1,008 yards last season in a limited role. Billick also has a close relationship with Mitch Frankel, Phillips' agent, who also represents Cris Carter, one of the Minnesota Vikings' star receivers. Billick was the Vikings' offensive coordinator before being hired in January by the Ravens.

Regardless of which team signs Phillips, he is expected to earn the veteran minimum $400,000 contract, but loaded with incentives.

"Both sides made an impression at the dinner we had," said Modell of the meeting before the 1996 draft. "I think Lawrence was real impressed with Ozzie and the fact that he was a Hall of Famer. He knows this is a family business, our only business, and we're going to put a lot of energy into it."

"He realizes he has a chance to have an impact," Billick said. " He could be like Scott Mitchell, Billy Davis and Qadry Ismail, guys who came here because they feel they can still play and have something to prove."

If Phillips impresses several members of the front office staff next week and isn't suspended by the league, Billick said he will have to think about how a young team such as the Ravens could handle the addition of Phillips. Billick, though, apparently laid down guidelines yesterday to Phillips, who reportedly was fined 50 times in two years with the St. Louis Rams.

"He is ready to accept certain parameters, and we went over them," said Billick, who cut safety Ralph Staten earlier this year when he was 20 minutes late for a meeting. "You miss one practice, you miss one meeting, done. It's over."

Pub Date: 7/09/99

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