Ravens' password: Cunningham

Team eyes veteran QB to be Banks' backup

March 01, 2000|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

After four days of evaluating some of the best talent in college football at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, the Ravens began focusing on free agency again yesterday, including the situation with Minnesota Vikings quarterback Randall Cunningham.

The Vikings reportedly have threatened to waive Cunningham because he has declined to take a pay cut from his $4.25 million salary in 2000. Cunningham is due to make $1 million today, when a lot of players in the league will receive roster, option and other incentive bonuses.

Cunningham said yesterday that Minnesota will pay him the $1 million, but there is speculation that the club will waive him after June 1 to lower his salary cap acceleration figure from $3.3 million to $1.83 million, which would benefit the Vikings by giving them more room under the salary cap. Either way, the Ravens are interested in Cunningham, two league sources say.

Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, declined to comment about Cunningham because he is under contract with the Vikings. But he would make a perfect backup for the Ravens, who feel they can be a playoff contender next season.

Cunningham, who will turn 37 this month, was benched early in the season last year in favor of Jeff George. Privately, the Ravens don't think he can play a 16-game schedule, but he still can throw the long ball and his postseason experience is invaluable. Cunningham also would be a great tutor for starter Tony Banks.

Cunningham became a Pro Bowl performer in Brian Billick's offense two years ago when the two were in Minnesota, where Billick served as offensive coordinator.

Billick declined to comment on Cunningham, but he confirmed the Ravens were in the market for a veteran quarterback even though the team is involved in negotiations with current No. 2 quarterback Stoney Case. According to a team source, even if Case re-signs, the Ravens will pursue Cunningham if he is available.

"There are still a number of veteran quarterbacks on the free-agent market," Billick said. "I'm comfortable with Stoney as the No. 2 quarterback, but regardless of who signs, one situation doesn't preclude another."

Contrary to published reports last weekend, the Ravens are more interested in possibly trading for Cincinnati receiver Carl Pickens than Bengals running back Corey Dillon. However, the Ravens haven't had any talks with the Bengals for more than a month.

The Ravens are still involved in negotiations with receiver Qadry Ismail and kicker Matt Stover, both unrestricted free agents.

"He has had other opportunities," said Tony Agnone, Ismail's agent. "He wanted us to pursue this one first, and get involved with other teams only if this one didn't pan out. He has a tremendous respect for Brian Billick, who did a great job of redefining him last year."

The Ravens have made progress on both offense and defense in the off-season, but they haven't improved their special teams. They haven't re-signed Stover or Bennie Thompson or Billy Davis, their two top special teams players from a year ago.

Stover connected on his last 18 field goals. Thompson had 24 tackles to lead all special teams players, while Davis was second with 21. The Ravens have made offers to Stover and Davis, but not Thompson, 37, a virtual coach on the field. The special teams were the least effective of the three major units last season.

Newsome said yesterday that he would begin negotiations with Thompson within the next two weeks. Thompson has had inquiries from two teams.

"Right now, it doesn't look like the Ravens are ready to do anything with Bennie," said Terry Lavenstein, Thompson's agent. "They have indicated they have other priorities right now, but also have not indicated when they would be willing to sit down and talk. It would be remiss of me to sit around and wait for the Ravens to make Bennie a priority without fielding other offers."

Thompson says he wants to end his career in Baltimore.

"I'm interested in playing here in Baltimore, and I've been with this organization for a long time," said Thompson, who signed with Cleveland as a free agent in 1994. "I don't know what's going on and why it's not getting done. I'm not asking for much, especially compared to other players in the league. Heck, they could sign me for a Whopper and an order of fries. I'll buy the Coke."

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