Ravens drop Phillips pursuit

Controversial back `just doesn't fit for us,' club officials agree

July 16, 1999|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

If running back Lawrence Phillips resurrects his damaged NFL career this season, it will not happen in Baltimore.

Yesterday, after a short meeting among a handful of club officials, the Ravens decided to end their flirtation with Phillips, whom the team had been eyeing since he finished a record-breaking season last month with the Barcelona Dragons of NFL Europe.

In the eyes of Ravens coach Brian Billick, the decision to move on without Phillips -- whose brief pro career has been marred by off-the-field problems -- primarily came down to what Phillips could offer the Ravens on the field in 1999.

Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel, conferred with numerous officials yesterday, including Billick, team president David Modell, owner Art Modell, pro personnel director James Harris and assistant director of college and pro personnel John Wooten.

"Ozzie and I both had some reservations [about Phillips]. The more we pondered it, neither one of us was ready to endorse it," Billick said. "We looked at the total picture -- the off-the-field incidents, where he is now, what he would bring to this team now, what he could do for us after playing 10 games [in Europe]. This decision is not about `is he a good guy or a bad guy?' I'm not in a position to determine if this guy has whipped his problems.

"Right now, the sum total just doesn't fit for us. Is this team ready to absorb that type of scenario? We're not in a position to absorb a Lawrence Phillips right now, not with where the [rest of the] players are right now and with their focus coming into camp. We're better served in moving on without him."

Sources within the organization expressed concern that Phillips would create an excessive distraction, what with his checkered background and unfamiliarity with the Ravens.

Before leaving Nebraska in 1996, Phillips was sentenced to a year of probation for assaulting a former girlfriend. The Ravens then passed on him in the 1996 draft, instead opting for offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden with the fourth overall selection. Ogden has played in the past two Pro Bowls.

St. Louis took Phillips with the sixth pick. In his 19 months with the Rams, Phillips was arrested three times, reportedly fined about 50 times and spent 23 days in prison. He averaged only 3.3 yards a carry, before the Rams waived him midway through the 1997 season. Phillips then landed in Miami, but was cut after only two games. Then, last July, he pleaded no contest to striking a woman at a Miami nightclub and was sentenced to six months probation.

Phillips met on Wednesday with NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who told Phillips he would face a substantial fine after he signed with an NFL team. San Francisco, Buffalo, Green Bay and Oakland are among the teams that have expressed interest in signing Phillips.

"We've discussed this for two weeks, and we've included everything. We made an organizational decision not to pursue it any further," Newsome said.

David Modell said the team's sour experience with running back Bam Morris -- whom the Ravens signed in September 1996 after his arrest for drug possession, only to let Morris go 16 months later, after he ran into more off-the-field problems -- had nothing to do with the direction the Ravens chose with Phillips.

"There was a consensus which I agreed with," Modell said. "What's the potential reward for this football team? The potential reward did not outweigh the potential risk. It's not a knock on Lawrence Phillips. We're just not in the right place at the right time."

Added Billick: "I think he should play in the NFL, I think he will be successful in the NFL, and I think he should be given that opportunity. I just don't think that the Baltimore Ravens are the best opportunity for him and for us right now."

NOTES: Michael George, the agent for defensive end Michael McCrary, met in New York yesterday with Ravens vice president of administration Pat Moriarty, as the two sides continued efforts to reach agreement on a contract extension. McCrary, who is signed through 1999, has said he will test the free-agent market unless he signs an extension before the start of the regular season. The Ravens are expected to sign free-agent punter Paul McCord, possibly by today. McCord, who would compete with incumbent Kyle Richardson, is the former punter at Western Maryland College, where the Ravens open training camp July 28.

Pub Date: 7/16/99

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