Ravens' road to Johnson hits a bump

Champs likely to get fight from Chiefs for free-agent quarterback

K.C. in mix with Grbac gone

Newsome says team plans to make play for ex-Redskins QB

March 02, 2001|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The Ravens' pursuit of a quarterback begins in earnest this morning, but the path to Brad Johnson just got a little steeper.

When the Kansas City Chiefs released Pro Bowl quarterback Elvis Grbac yesterday, they joined the ever-increasing number of teams in search of a new passer.

And they figure to come after Johnson, the unrestricted free agent from the Washington Redskins, regarded as the top quarterback in this year's pool going in.

At the least, the arrival of Grbac, a seven-year veteran who threw for 4,169 yards last season, should put a financial spark in the quarterback market.

"It all depends on which teams want which players," Phil Williams, Johnson's agent, said last night. "But it certainly could."

Grbac, 30, was due to get a $10 million roster bonus on March 15. Loaded down with a salary cap number of $16.9 million, he was in the process of restructuring the contract when talks with the Chiefs broke down Wednesday night.

His agent, Jim Steiner, was seeking a $20 million signing bonus and $8 million a year over five years.

Early reports have Grbac ticketed for the Seattle Seahawks and a West Coast offense he's familiar with, compared to the one that new Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil is bringing to Kansas City.

On the day Ozzie Newsome acknowledged he will go after Johnson, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel also opened the door to Grbac.

Asked if he had interest in discarded San Diego Chargers quarterback Ryan Leaf, a first-round flop of 1998, or Grbac, Newsome didn't miss a beat.

"Ryan Leaf, his agent probably should call me," Newsome said. "Elvis Grbac, yes, there's potential we'll be talking to his agent [today]."

Newsome met with the media after tightening his salary cap belt. The Ravens cut two players yesterday -- quarterback Tony Banks and reserve tackle Spencer Folau -- and declined to pick up an option on safety Rod Woodson's contract, rendering him a free agent.

Safe for the day, anyway, was veteran tackle Harry Swayne.

"Right now, Harry's on our football team," Newsome said. "Our situation is a very fluid situation, and from day to day, it changes."

Woodson, who will be 36 next week, is expected to return to the Ravens. The 14-year veteran was scheduled to make $3 million this season, and had a cap number of $5 million. If he returns, it will be at a considerable discount.

"We've been in communications with Rod since the Pro Bowl, with [agent] Eugene Parker, and we've already entered into negotiations about bringing him back," Newsome said. "As the off-season moves along, and other cap room becomes available, Rod Woodson will become a member of our football team again.

"He wants to come and play for the Ravens, and the Ravens want Rod Woodson to come and play for us."

Yesterday's maneuvering got the Ravens under the league salary cap of $67.4 million with enough room to fit a quarterback on the roster. With 14 unrestricted free agents of their own hitting the market, the first order of business is putting the pass back in Brian Billick's run offense.

"I always said our No. 1 priority is signing a quarterback," Newsome said. "We'll be in a position at least to sign that one [free agent], and then we'll go from there. It may take all of it to sign that one."

Newsome wouldn't disclose how far under the cap the Ravens are. But expectations are that Johnson will require a signing bonus between $6 million and $8 million on a contract that figures to average at least $6 million.

The Ravens have been down this road before with Johnson, whom they tried to acquire in a trade before the 1999 season. Billick and Johnson spent seven years together with the Minnesota Vikings to that point. However, the Ravens refused to surrender first-, second-, and third-round draft picks for Johnson.

"Two years ago, fresh from having coached the guy, we had the opportunity to make a trade for him, and we didn't because we put our value on him with Brian in the mix," Newsome said. "That value hasn't changed.

"We have an organizational structure where we put value on players, and we will not go above that. Had we done that, think what would have happened. We wouldn't have had [cornerback] Chris McAlister, and that second-round pick ended up being [traded for a first-round pick, with which the Ravens selected running back] Jamal Lewis. We're going to stick with our value on what we think a player's worth."

Other teams in the quarterback market include Seattle, San Diego, Tampa Bay, Miami, Dallas, Chicago and Cincinnati.

Johnson's interest in Baltimore?

"Brad really likes Brian," Williams said.

Newsome wouldn't discount the return of Trent Dilfer, who quarterbacked the Ravens to a season-ending 11-game winning streak. But he insisted there will be no negotiations until Dilfer's agent, Mike Sullivan, submits a contract proposal.

"What we've done is we've put a value on what we think Trent's worth," Newsome said, "and that's not going to change."

Newsome admits the Ravens will be unable to retain all 14 unrestricted free agents. He indicated he'd take a proposal from agent Tony Agnone on linebacker Jamie Sharper to the NFL Management Council to check its legality, and said proposals have been exchanged for fullback Sam Gash.

Sharper's status has a direct bearing on backup linebacker Cornell Brown, who could command a starter's salary in the market.

There was no progress reported in talks with center Jeff Mitchell or strong safety Kim Herring.

"Unless we blow those agents and the players out of the water with a huge contract, they're going to test the market and they should," Newsome said.

Newsome also said he had made an offer for Folau to return. Folau was scheduled to make $1.75 million this season on an offer sheet the Ravens matched a year ago. He had a roster bonus due yesterday, which the Ravens avoided by releasing him.

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