Where will Redman fit in now?

March 06, 2001|By Mike Preston

AS THE RAVENS TRY to solve their immediate problem at quarterback with Elvis Grbac, they risk losing their field leader of the future, Chris Redman.

Grbac is going to want a deal centered on three or four years and a commitment that he is not just baby-sitting the job for Redman, the team's promising third-round draft pick a year ago out of Louisville.

The Ravens have Redman under contract for two more years and then for a third when he becomes a restricted free agent, but then he can test the open market and the Ravens might lose him to big money.

Or, the Ravens could trade him within the next two years.

"No one wants to invest a lot of time in a quarterback for another team, but sometimes you're faced with that risk," said Ravens coach Brian Billick about losing Redman. "It happened in Green Bay, where they invested time in Matt Hasselbeck and then traded him to Seattle. I'm not saying that's going to happen with Chris Redman, but I'm not going to call our situation with him a problem. It is what it is."

"In some part, that's why you have to admire Dennis Green," Billick said of the Minnesota coach who started second-year quarterback Daunte Culpepper last season.

Billick doesn't have the nerve, and Redman isn't ready. There are a number of Ravens fans who will point to Indianapolis' Peyton Manning, Culpepper and Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb as young quarterbacks who had early success, but the Ravens don't have Minnesota's receivers and Redman has neither Manning's arm nor McNabb's athletic ability.

There might be a time in the next two to three years when Redman will have a chance to perform due to injury or the starter's possibly not playing well. But if he does, will the Ravens trade him for possible draft picks?

And if he doesn't, do they trade him?

And if he doesn't get much exposure, then what happens when his contract expires? A lot of things can happen.

"I don't know," Billick said. "Only time will tell. He has a lot of potential, but potential is a scary word."

In a sense, the Ravens are no different from most of the other teams in the NFL. The window of opportunity is very small in the league, and free agency, the pressures of winning and the salary cap have forced teams to find a veteran who can be plugged in right away.

Look at some of this year's free agents. Trent Dilfer. Grbac. Scott Mitchell. Brad Johnson. Randall Cunningham. Jim Harbaugh.

What do they have in common?

They are journeymen who have had varying degrees of success and failure along frequent stops. Grbac and Johnson are better than Dilfer, but not dramatically. Johnson and Grbac are on the same level. Grbac throws a better long ball, is tougher but less mobile than Johnson, who moves well, has a quicker release, but gets hurt much more than Grbac.

But the Ravens believe if they upgrade their passing game, they are better than a year ago. They know a veteran like Grbac, combined with the league's top defense, gives them a much better chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions than with Redman.

Veteran quarterbacks are trouble shooters, which is why you see more of them having success late in their careers like Oakland's Rich Gannon and Carolina's Steve Bauerlein, and less of quarterbacks such as Troy Aikman and Drew Bledsoe, who have played for only one team and started for more than five years.

A lot of teams don't like to draft quarterbacks in the first round. There is too much pressure to succeed early and not a lot of time to develop. This all goes back to free agency.

A rookie like Redman usually signs a four- to six-year contract and then is eligible to become a free agent. If he sits on the bench for two years, then has a year to develop and then plays well for one season, he might be off to a bigger contract.

"There are a lot of guys who are maybe going to be great quarterbacks," said TV analyst and former NFL coach John Madden. "Before free agency, no one who played quarterback was ready until their fourth or fifth season. Maybe they'd play in the third year, but it was their fifth year when they could see everything and stuff started to go slow motion than fast forward.

Patience would be the perfect scenario for the 6-foot-3, 223-pound Redman, whose 12,541 passing yards are second all-time to the 15,031 of BYU's Ty Detmer. In today's game, quarterbacks need more time to study because the game is faster, more blitzes are used and it has become the era of specialization.

Redman didn't get much playing time during the regular season, but was impressive in training camp and played well during the preseason.

The Ravens would like to wait for him to develop like Tennessee's Steve McNair in hopes that he could be mentioned as one of the game's bright young quarterbacks along with Culpepper and Denver's Brian Griese.

Instead, Redman could become another solid prospect in a quarterback-starved league, another Rob Johnson, who played one great game against the Ravens, but that was enough to force a trade from Jacksonville to Buffalo for the 1998 season.

It's a risk the Ravens are willing to take.

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