With Grbac, percentages work in favor of Ravens

March 07, 2001|By Mike Preston

WHY ELVIS Grbac?

What makes him any different from the previous four quarterbacks used by Ravens coach Brian Billick in the past two years?

The Ravens and Grbac, the former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, yesterday agreed to a five-year deal worth $30 million, including an $11 million signing bonus. The contract will pay Grbac $13 million ($5 million to sign initially) over the next two seasons, and the Ravens have an option at that time to pick up the last three years, which would earn Grbac an additional $6 million.

But don't get the impression that this is a two-year agreement so the Ravens can insert rookie Chris Redman. The Ravens worked this deal because it is salary cap friendly and has low base salaries.

And don't mistake Grbac as a savior. Brett Favre, he ain't.

He became the team's No. 1 choice by fate as well as design. But he has already made one good decision. He chose the defending Super Bowl champions over money and pro football's version of hell, the Cincinnati Bengals, where a lot of careers have ended.

Barring injury, this is the Ravens' best marriage to a quarterback in the last three years. Better than Jim Harbaugh. And Scott "Water Buffalo" Mitchell, and Stoney "The Phony" Case and Tony Banks. Even better than Trent Dilfer, who took the Ravens to the Super Bowl nearly six weeks ago.

In a quarterback-starved league, the Ravens got one of the top 12. Grbac has arrived at a time when the Ravens' offense should start to have a coming-out party.

A number of young players should mature, such as receivers Travis Taylor and Brandon Stokley, running back Jamal Lewis, fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo, guards Mike Flynn and Edwin Mulitalo and possibly center Jeff Mitchell, an unrestricted free agent.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Let's start with the matchup: Dilfer vs. Grbac.

Dilfer is younger, more mobile, tougher and hasn't been injured as much. Grbac is an inch taller, a year older and has a much stronger and consistent arm. Dilfer led his team to the Super Bowl last season, while Grbac put up Pro Bowl numbers.

But here's a key difference, and pardon me for spitting out numbers like the Compu Coach. Dilfer has a career completion percentage of 55.2, and Grbac is at 59.7. It doesn't sound like a big difference, but almost any quarterback in the NFL can complete 55 percent.

The good ones are around 60 percent, and the top ones are close to 63 to 65. Averaging about 500 or so throws over 16 games, Grbac completes about two more passes a game than Dilfer. If Dilfer hits two more passes in the first half of the Super Bowl, the Ravens leave the stadium at halftime ahead by about 25 points. That's also 48 more completions per season.

The Ravens aren't looking for a major impact from Grbac, just enough to complement their running game and finish off some drives inside the red zone.

Grbac completed 326 of 547 passes for 4,169 yards and 28 touchdowns, with 14 interceptions in 15 games last season. Dilfer completed 134 of 226 passes for 1,502 yards and 12 touchdowns, with 11 interceptions in eight games in 2000.

During the playoffs, he was having trouble completing passes in practice. The Ravens were completely one-dimensional.

Grbac gives this offense some credibility.

"How many guys in the game today are Super Bowl champion quarterbacks?" asked Billick. "Troy Aikman and Brett Favre. Now, Trent Dilfer. That's pretty good company, and he deserves that kind of respect. But the fact of the matter is: Can we win the Super Bowl the way we did last year? Probably not. We have to have more offensive productivity if we think we're going back.

"Some people will say that Billick's ego is such that he has to win offensively, that it's killing me that we're winning by defense," said Billick. "Do you risk throwing the dynamic of the chemistry off from last year? Yes, but we can't stand pat. Our goal is to get better, and I think we have a quarterback who is at the top of his game."

For the Ravens to possibly repeat, they need to move from their middle-of-the-pack offensive ranking to somewhere in the top 10. They already have a dominating defense and solid special teams.

Grbac won't need a long adjustment period. He has operated the West Coast offense before in San Francisco and Kansas City. The Ravens' front-office personnel, including Billick, rated Grbac the highest of the free-agent quarterbacks, with Washington's Brad Johnson a close No. 2. Billick, though, has always had a special relationship with Johnson.

But Johnson wasn't happy about the Ravens' talking with Grbac, and then thought the team's offer was below par. He chose Tampa Bay, and Grbac had virtually no other choice.

Cincinnati?

Oh, please.

Bengals players are trying to escape that zoo, not break in.

If Grbac had another option, then the Ravens would have been stuck with alternatives such as Randall Cunningham, Gus Frerotte and Jon Kitna.

Or Dilfer again.

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