Ravens' pocket change

Champs' call to arms answered by Grbac in 5-year, $30M deal

QB gets $11M signing bonus

Ex-Chief gives team vertical passing game

Modell `very happy'

March 07, 2001|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The first thing you can say about the Ravens' new quarterback is that he's a risk-taker.

How many veteran quarterbacks would have left a safe haven, resisted an obvious contract extension and leaped squarely into a free-agent market in which most competitive teams are salary-cap challenged?

Two? Three? None?

Elvis Grbac did. And he was rewarded nicely for it, too.

Grbac not only resisted a contract extension from the Kansas City Chiefs, he resisted an extravagant offer from the lowly Cincinnati Bengals, and yesterday accepted a five-year, $30- million deal with the world champion Ravens, for whom the bar has been raised significantly.

It was the quantum leap for Grbac, and a flight of fancy for the Ravens. With a vertical passing game in place, they have taken a solid first step in defense of their Super Bowl championship.

It was a relief to Jim Steiner, Grbac's agent, who required four days to get the deal done.

"Elvis is very pleased," said Steiner from his St. Louis office, where he concluded negotiations late yesterday afternoon.

"To take a chance, to go on the market not knowing where he'd end up - there were no prearranged deals - to end up on a football team of the quality of the Baltimore Ravens, with their personnel, with top-level people and a great front office, he's extremely pleased."

He should be. He'll get $13 million over the first two years of a contract that averages $6 million per season. He gets an $11 million signing bonus that is payable over two seasons. He will receive $5 million when he signs the contract tomorrow, and $6 million in his second year.

"Standard, plain vanilla, just cash," Steiner said of the deal he struck with Ravens' negotiator Pat Moriarty, whom he described as "tough, hard, but fair."

One day after Brad Johnson went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a five-year, $28 million deal, Grbac replaced Super Bowl winner and free agent Trent Dilfer, and filled the Ravens' biggest priority.

There were smiles all around, including Indian Wells, Calif., where team owner Art Modell is vacationing.

"I'm very happy," Modell said. "It's another weapon that we have in our arsenal. I don't know how it'll work out, but he's a Pro Bowl quarterback with a lot of quarterbacking talent."

Grbac is an eight-year veteran who posted career highs in passing yardage (4,169) and touchdowns (28) last season with the Chiefs to earn his first Pro Bowl invitation. Originally an eighth-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers, he has thrown 84 touchdowns and 63 interceptions in his 92-game NFL career.

"He's a guy who can help us get better in the vertical game," said Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel. "He has arm strength, touch and accuracy. It helped that we are also a team that can contend for the Super Bowl. I think that played a big part. He sees himself helping us repeat."

Steiner said Grbac left a better offer - and "millions of dollars" - on the negotiating table in Cincinnati. In the end, though, this was a no-brainer.

"All things being equal, you're going to [pick] Baltimore," Steiner said. "He has a passion to be part of a winning team, to play, compete and win a Super Bowl. That's what he wants to do.

"In today's market, it doesn't get any better than the Super Bowl champs. He's the beneficiary of something that began in year 2000. His mission is to keep it going."

In the past two seasons, when he was a full-time starter for the Chiefs, Grbac threw a combined 50 touchdowns and 29 interceptions.

Because of his 49ers pedigree and his familiarity with the West Coast offense, he should have little difficulty adapting to coach Brian Billick's scheme and the Ravens' fleet of speedy receivers.

"You're talking about a Pro Bowl quarterback," Billick said. "He's got everything: size, athleticism, a strong arm, experience. He's approaching what we think is the top of his game, and the top of his career.

"One of the things that drew Elvis here is that we have a great defense and a solid running game. We have talked about having speed outside to have a certain amount of explosiveness about us. I think he'll be able to take advantage of that speed."

Gunther Cunningham was Grbac's head coach the past two years in Kansas City. Without a dominant running back last season, Cunningham unleashed Grbac's vertical game. Grbac responded with 55 passes of 20 yards or longer, third most in the league.

"He's outstanding," Cunningham said yesterday. "He can get the ball downfield a long ways. ... We went from nowhere in the '90s to being one of the top long-ball [offenses] in the league."

As fate would have it, Cunningham was fired after going 16-16 the past two years, and recently joined the Tennessee Titans - Baltimore's chief competition in the AFC Central Division - as linebackers coach.

Back in Kansas City, the knock on Grbac dealt with leadership and toughness.

"People perceived him as not being tough or a leader, but I'll go to my grave defending Elvis Grbac," Cunningham said. "That was the most unfair assessment of a guy I've ever seen."

It also motivated Grbac to leave.

"That's part of the reason he wanted to explore the market," Steiner said. "He enjoyed his time in Kansas City. It was good to him. [But] he was never revered there. It was not an easy four years for him."

Shortly after a deal was reached yesterday, Ravens publicist Kevin Byrne spoke with Grbac and reminded him he was now the starting quarterback for the Super Bowl champions.

Grbac's reply: "Let's do it again."

GRBAC IN 2000

Comp. pct. .596

Yards 4, 169

NFL Rank:3

TDs

28

NFL Rank:4

INT

14

Rating 89.9

NFL Rank:8

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