Ravens, Stover line up deal

Kicker back in fold, team makes pass at Dilfer as backup QB

March 03, 2000|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

On the same day the Ravens averted a critical defection in their kicking game, they took a giant step toward solving the backup quarterback mystery.

Matt Stover, the franchise's kicker for the past nine seasons, agreed in principle yesterday to a four-year contract believed to be worth slightly more than $1 million a season. He was easily the best unrestricted free-agent kicker available in a markedly shallow pool of candidates this off-season.

Meanwhile, Trent Dilfer appeared to be a good -- if not perfect -- match for the Ravens' No. 2 quarterback job behind Tony Banks. Dilfer's 24-hour visit featured two long sessions with coach Brian Billick and seeming acceptance of his would-be role here.

"We're going to see if we can work out some kind of deal with them," Dilfer's agent, Mike Sullivan, said after Dilfer's visit.

Call it a productive day at the Ravens' Owings Mills complex.

Getting a deal with Stover was no small item, given the dearth of desirable kickers on the free-agent market.

"I'm thrilled to have him back," Billick said. "I did not handle Matt Stover as well as I should have in the early part of the season. [But] Matt and I have a real comfort zone with each other right now. And there's a real void at that position in the league."

Stover, 32, scored a career-high 116 points last season. He hit 28 of 33 field-goal attempts, including the last 18 in a row. That was the second-best finishing kick in the regular season behind the Indianapolis Colts' Mike Vanderjagt, who hit his last 26 attempts.

Stover, who lives in Dallas, has connected on 47 of his last 54 field goal tries (87 percent), and is 141-for-153 (92.2 percent) inside the 40 for his career.

"I'm glad to be back," Stover said. "I love the direction of the team. I love the fact there are a lot of signings and I love the fact the Modells have no more debt. I'd be a fool not to want to come back."

Stover, who expressed an interest in returning to the team from the beginning, said there were negotiations with other teams "to an extent but my heart is in Baltimore."

Dilfer, cut loose after six seasons and 76 starts with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, made Baltimore his first -- and perhaps last -- visit of the free-agent period.

"Trent was very impressed with Coach Billick," Sullivan said. "It was exactly the type offensive theory he's looking for."

Dilfer, 28, had a lengthy talk with Billick over dinner Wednesday night, then spent several hours in Billick's office yesterday.

"He and I sat here for three hours, and it was not intended to be three hours," Billick said. "We enjoyed the conversation. One subject led to the next. We were on the board [and] looking at film. It was a fun day."

The heart-to-heart came when Billick made clear it was the backup role he was offering Dilfer.

How comfortable was Dilfer in addressing that role?

"As comfortable as any quarterback who has started in the NFL can be," Billick said.

"I think Trent recognizes the options available to him are as a backup. That's a progression these guys have to go through, whether it's Gus Frerotte or Neil O'Donnell. It's a lot for them to have to adjust to."

Dilfer went 38-38 in five-plus years as the Bucs' starter. But he was benched last season, and lost his job to rookie Shaun King for good after breaking a collarbone. Bucs coach Tony Dungy, criticized for his unimaginative offense, fired offensive coordinator Mike Shula and made Dilfer a free agent after the team reached the NFC championship game.

Since coming out of Fresno State in 1994 as the sixth pick of the draft, Dilfer has been known primarily for his big-time arm, his toughness and his propensity to make mistakes. He threw for 16 touchdowns and 39 interceptions in his first 34 starts with Tampa Bay. In his last 42 starts, he threw 53 touchdowns and 37 interceptions.

"The style of play is clearly important to him, having come out of a system that is admittedly run-oriented," Billick said. "He's looking to find a system where he'll be more able to use his attributes.

Despite his rough departure from the Bucs, Dilfer showed Billick no trace of bitterness.

"At no point in the visit -- and this was very classy on his part -- did he point an accusing finger or say anything derogatory about Tony Dungy or Mike Shula or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers," Billick said.

"I was very impressed with his sense of accountability, and at the same time, his sense of confidence in what he can do."

Dilfer, who spent the entire day in meetings, was unavailable to comment.

His agent said that there were no other visits planned for Dilfer.

Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens vice president of player personnel, said no offer had been made yet, but that he expected to initiate negotiations with Sullivan shortly.

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