Grbac eyes the big prize

Ravens' new QB signed, sealed, hopes to deliver another title

He passed on other options

Ex-Chief: `I truly wanted to be part of a championship'

March 09, 2001|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

In the beginning, it was about initiative.

At the end, it was about opportunity.

Despite the five-year, $30 million contract given him by the Ravens, the courtship of quarterback Elvis Grbac was never really about money, at least not in the traditional sense.

Introduced yesterday in a packed news conference at the team's Owings Mills complex, Grbac made it clear he wanted to be here for the chance to defend the Ravens' Super Bowl championship.

"I could have gone back to Kansas City and done some great things offensively," he said. "But I truly wanted to be part of a championship organization."

A 4,000-yard passer and first-time Pro Bowl player last season, Grbac had other options.

He could have re-signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. He could have gone to the Cincinnati Bengals and been closer to family in his hometown of Cleveland.

But neither of those teams would have put him on the Super Bowl track like the Ravens did.

That's why he pressed the attack when the free-agency period opened on Friday, hopped a train from New York to Baltimore and spent an enlightening evening at the home of coach Brian Billick.

That's why his agent, Jim Steiner, changed his travel itinerary the next morning and caught a flight to Baltimore to begin negotiations.

In the beginning, it was more about trains and planes than about money.

"Elvis and Jim Steiner had great initiative," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel. "Elvis was in New York and jumped on a train and came down here. Jim was [headed to] Mike Alstott's wedding but didn't go and jumped on a plane to negotiate."

Grbac eagerly made the first-day visit, because he wanted to feel out Billick and to show his interest in the Ravens. Never mind that Billick neglected to inform his wife Kim of the dinner guest and didn't count on having his daughter's friends over in what became a chaotic household. Quarterback and coach connected.

"When I left, I knew right then and there, getting back on the train, that I wanted to come here," Grbac said. "I sensed the way the organization is run, how the players are treated like men. ... There are not too many teams that will treat you like a man. As a player, that's what you want."

Early Saturday morning, Steiner found out how much Grbac wanted it.

At the St. Louis airport for a 7:30 a.m. flight to Florida for the wedding of Alstott, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fullback, his cell phone rang. It was Lori Grbac, Elvis' wife.

"She was saying, `Why aren't you in Baltimore working out a deal?' " Steiner said. "I looked on the board, and there was a departure for Baltimore at 7:48. My partner went to Tampa. I said, `Tell Mike, I love you, babe. I'll talk to you later.' "

Negotiations were not without difficulty. Brad Johnson, the other prominent free-agent quarterback, floated in and out of the picture before signing with the Bucs. The Seattle Seahawks, expected to pursue Grbac, settled for Matt Hasselbeck. The Bengals weighed in with a big offer.

More problematic were the Ravens' salary-cap restrictions.

When Steiner left Baltimore late Sunday morning, before an impending storm rolled in, he had no deal. And despite a statement of confidence, he wasn't sure there would be one.

"There wasn't a great deal of faith," he said. "Once we were in conversation with them, we weren't sure it was going to work out."

In the end, it came down to one basic question: Where did Grbac, 30, want to finish his career? Cincinnati offered lots more money up front but much less chance of reaching a Super Bowl. Baltimore had the best defense in the NFL, the fifth-best running game and a vacancy at quarterback.

It was, Grbac said, a no-brainer. Baltimore, of course.

Even though it meant he was giving up in excess of $5 million in guaranteed, first-year money. Even though Baltimore's contract included an option at the end of the first year that meant the Ravens could cut Grbac at that point with a total payout of just $5.5 million ($5 million signing bonus, $500,000 base salary).

A no-brainer?

"It's the difference negotiating on behalf of a veteran who's been in the league, made a great deal of money, who's financially secure and stable," said Steiner. "Now he has other priorities.

"You can't negate the importance of money. In this case, it wasn't the most important factor, and he proved it."

What Grbac does for Billick's offense is get it back in the passing lane. Throwing for career highs of 4,169 yards and 28 touchdowns, Grbac demonstrated the ability to go deep last season.

Add that threat to the punishing running game of Jamal Lewis, and you've got a top-10 offense and an improved chance to repeat as world champions.

"The thing that excited me most was ... we really feel like we have an athlete that is just now reaching his full potential, a guy that is reaching the top of his game, that has all the physical, mental and emotional tools to take over a Super Bowl-champion team," Billick said. "That is not a position for the faint of heart."

Billick acknowledged the awkward parting with free-agent Trent Dilfer, who will play for another team next year after going 11-1 with the Ravens.

"First and foremost, [there's] a huge amount of gratitude for Trent Dilfer for what he has done, what he has meant to the organization," Billick said. "I think in his heart of hearts, Trent feels that same gratitude in the way he was dealt with when he first came in here and the way things progressed."

Now that the courtship is over, Grbac must face the Super Bowl expectations. He is not daunted, he said.

"I don't feel the pressure, of `Oh, my God, let's not screw this up,' " he said. "This is a great team. I can make it better. I can help this team offensively, and I'm going to be accountable for what I do on the field."

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