Ravens zero in on QB Grbac

With Johnson a Buc, ex-Chief is champs' chief contract target

Newsome denies deal done

Negotiations continue late into the night

March 06, 2001|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The Ravens lost Brad Johnson to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers yesterday, but appeared on the verge of a deal with Elvis Grbac, a Pro Bowl quarterback with the Kansas City Chiefs last season.

Amid reports the Cincinnati Bengals had withdrawn from negotiations for Grbac, the Ravens' Ozzie Newsome last night denied a deal was done, but acknowledged the two sides were still meeting.

"We do not have a deal yet," the Ravens' vice president for player personnel said. "Up until it's done, it's not done."

Newsome indicated that Pat Moriarty, the team's director of football administration, had resumed negotiations with Grbac's agent, Jim Steiner, late last night.

The Bengals dropped out of the running for Grbac earlier in the evening in a philosophical decision to spread that prospective quarterbacking money around at more positions.

Troy Blackburn, director of business development for the Bengals, confirmed the decision for Bengals.com, saying, "We talked about a lot of money with Elvis because we think he's a fine football player, but we felt the best move for the team was getting as many quality players as we can at a variety of positions, and this deal would have precluded that. Plus, I think Akili Smith has a chance to be a top quarterback, and that's a direction we shouldn't close off."

The chain of events was triggered earlier in the evening, when Johnson agreed to a five-year, $28 million contract with the Bucs. According to CNN-SI, he will get $12.8 million in the first two years, with escalators in the third and fourth years that would add $2 million to the package.

Johnson and Grbac were the two most prominent quarterbacks in the free-agent market this year. Johnson was expected to wind up in Baltimore, and was regarded by some as the team's first choice.

Ravens owner Art Modell refuted that perception yesterday.

"Brad Johnson was never our No. 1 choice," Modell said before the agreement was announced. "Johnson and Grbac are two No. 1 choices. We decided the first one that met our terms and conditions would be our No. 1 quarterback."

Once Grbac was released by the Chiefs in a salary-cap move last week, he made clear the Ravens were his top choice in a visit to Baltimore on Friday.

That was followed promptly with a visit by Steiner on Saturday. He stayed through Sunday trying to close a deal, but left without an agreement.

Upon news that Johnson was headed to Tampa, Steiner acknowledged his interest and his newfound leverage.

"There might be an urgency from the club's point of view," he said. "I have felt an urgency for the last 72 hours. I flew to Baltimore and begged for a deal."

Steiner was not available to comment later in the night once he resumed talks with Moriarty.

"It doesn't change our feelings about Baltimore," he said of Johnson's deal. "It changes the dynamics, it changes perspectives. As [Ravens coach Brian] Billick said, every time something occurs, it changes the perspective of both the agent and the club."

Modell was undeterred by Johnson's decision to join the Bucs. Among the Ravens' options, he said, are incumbent starter Trent Dilfer, backup Chris Redman, Grbac and even Randall Cunningham, a free agent who played with the Dallas Cowboys last season.

"We have not been denuded," Modell said.

Dilfer was the Ravens' fallback candidate if they failed to get either Johnson or Grbac. He was the starter in the Ravens' 11-game winning streak that culminated with a blowout victory over the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.

"He remains an option," Modell said of Dilfer. "As does Grbac. As does Redman. We have a high level of confidence in Chris Redman.

"We'll see what happens. We made a legitimate, decent offer [to Grbac]. If it's accepted, fine. If it isn't, we'll go in a different direction."

Modell said the team made the same offer to both Grbac and Johnson.

Reportedly, that offer was for four years and $22 million, with a $4 million signing bonus and a $4 million option payment in 2002.

CNN-SI reported that the offer was viewed by Johnson and his representative, Phil Williams, as a three-year, $16 million deal that would have made the quarterback a cap casualty in the fourth year.

Williams said he talked to the Bucs "about four or five times" yesterday before reaching terms. He said Johnson was intrigued by the chance of rejoining Billick, who was the offensive coordinator during Johnson's stint with the Minnesota Vikings.

"It [the decision] was really tough ... because he thinks the world of Brian," Williams said. "But he has a lot of close connections in Tampa."

Johnson, 32, lives in Tallahassee and played at Florida State.

Mike Sullivan, who represents Dilfer, said last night the Ravens had not contacted him. But he said he had conversations with four other teams yesterday about Dilfer.

Although Sullivan did not name the four teams, it's believed they were the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, San Diego Chargers and Cincinnati.

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