Grbac's 1st-down pass to Ravens

Ex-Chiefs QB stops by as free-agent chase begins

Johnson called

March 03, 2001|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

This is what it means to be world champions: When a high-profile quarterback suddenly turns up in the free-agent market, his first stop is your town.

Elvis Grbac, a Pro Bowl quarterback with the Kansas City Chiefs last season, turned up in Baltimore yesterday for a recruiting visit with Ravens coach Brian Billick and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh.

Grbac could cure what ailed the Ravens' offense last year. He completed 55 passes of 20 yards or longer, compared to the 36 the Ravens hit. He tossed 28 touchdown passes to 20 for the Ravens. He threw for 4,169 yards, compared to the Ravens' 3,102.

Hello, vertical game.

So, what does it mean that Grbac, who'll be 31 in August, made Baltimore the first stop on his free-agent tour?

"He really is intrigued with Baltimore because of Brian Billick, the success of the team," Grbac's agent, Jim Steiner, said yesterday. "It'd be a great place to play. He wants to win."[But] they all have their interesting aspects," Steiner said of the teams that are pursuing Grbac.

The free-agent quarterback chase began with a rush. Steiner was busy fielding calls of interest from the Ravens, Seattle Seahawks and Cincinnati Bengals once the free-agent market officially opened.

Phil Williams, the agent for the market's other prominent quarterback, Brad Johnson, was equally busy. He spoke with the Ravens, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chiefs and Bengals.

"We're still very open to coming to Baltimore," Williams said. "We've got to talk further about things. ... It's definitely very attractive from the standpoint of working with Brian Billick and having such a good defense and such good players on offense."

Johnson, who had a seven-year stint under Billick with the Minnesota Vikings, had no plans to visit Baltimore because introductions were unnecessary.

The subtlety of how times have changed is not lost on Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' de facto general manager.

"We have gotten a lot of calls from people saying, `Our guy's only got one year left, two years left, they want a chance to go to the Super Bowl. Your guys give him the best chance,' " Newsome said.

"As opposed to two years ago, when unless we outbid people, we didn't get them."

Now the shoe is on the other foot, and the Super Bowl champion Ravens are hoping to cash in.

They reportedly are $2.2 million under the NFL's $67.4 million salary cap after Thursday's contract surgery, and talking only to two quarterbacks, Grbac and Johnson.

"We've had preliminary contractual talks with both [agents]," Newsome said.

He declined to say how far those talks got. But sources indicate the Ravens already have made an offer to Johnson that was not acceptable.

According to reports, Grbac's agent was asking the Chiefs for a $20 million signing bonus and $8 million a year over five years. He isn't likely to get the $20 million anywhere in the NFL, and certainly not from the Ravens.

Asked if he was alarmed by any numbers thrown at him yesterday, Newsome said, "No, and nothing we've said scared them off, either."

Said Williams: "We've talked some numbers, some more specific than others."

Incumbent Ravens starter Trent Dilfer, meanwhile, remained on hold and in a fallback position for the team, should negotiations with Grbac and Johnson fail to produce a contract.

Dilfer was contacted by the Bengals, but is unlikely to visit Cincinnati pending developments in Baltimore.

Like Johnson, Grbac has a connection in Baltimore, although it's not Billick. When Grbac was a backup quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers in 1996, Cavanaugh was the quarterback coach.

As an eighth-round draft pick by the 49ers in 1993, Grbac started just nine games in four years, going 6-3. He signed a free-agent contract with Kansas City in 1997, and went 25-20 in four years as a starter there.

In four seasons, Grbac took the Chiefs to only one playoff game (1997) and lost that. The early favorite to get Grbac appears to be Seattle.

Asked what he was looking for in a new team, Steiner, Grbac's agent, touched on the obvious.

"Where he could be a significant contributor to the organization," Steiner said. "Winning a championship would be on his mind. It doesn't have to happen necessarily this year. With Baltimore, that time frame is today. There are other organizations where it might be tomorrow."

NOTES: The Ravens will increase season-ticket prices by $6 to $10 for upper and lower level seating the next two seasons, but club level seats will remain the same price. Lower level sideline season tickets will increase by $10 per game. Lower end zone and all upper-level season tickets will increase by $6 per game. The increase is the first since the team moved into PSINet Stadium. ... ... Newsome said Pat Moriarty, the team's chief negotiator, had another productive meeting with Tony Agnone, who represents free-agent starting linebacker Jamie Sharper. ... The Ravens have signed exclusive rights tight end John Jones to a second-year tender of $298,000, and also signed fullback Alan Ricard, who spent last season on the practice squad.

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