Cunningham deal is `viable'

Billick, veteran QB likely to be reunited

Redman remains No. 2

Pro Football

April 25, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens and Randall Cunningham have an understanding, not an agreement.

The Super Bowl champions have talked with Cunningham about becoming their No. 3 quarterback, and the 15-year veteran appears ready to accept that role.

The arrangement would allow second-year quarterback Chris Redman to be promoted to backup as well as give coach Brian Billick the option of using Cunningham as his top replacement if starter Elvis Grbac gets injured.

But no deal is expected to take place until June 1, when the Ravens likely would get more salary cap room by releasing one or more veterans.

"We're a ways from this being done," Billick said. "But all parties are very interested, and unless something changes, it's very viable."

Cunningham, 38, has reportedly drawn interest from the Ravens and the Oakland Raiders this off-season. Now, his decision apparently has been made.

"It's Baltimore," Cunningham told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Monday, "but I just haven't signed yet."

The situation would resemble the quarterback lineup of the 1994 Minnesota Vikings, when Billick was the offensive coordinator there. The Vikings had Warren Moon as their starter and Brad Johnson their backup through the first 15 games of the season.

Then, when Moon went down with a knee injury and Minnesota needed a season-ending win over San Francisco to win the NFC Central, the Vikings started veteran No. 3 quarterback Sean Salisbury ahead of the third-year Johnson. The move worked, as the Vikings beat the 49ers, 21-14.

"I can see that scenario here," Billick said. "If at the end of the season or during some point during the season, there is a key time where you're talking about making the playoffs, a bye or home-field advantage, you would have more comfort with a veteran, a guy who's been in that situation."

While the rotation remains fluid, Billick's stance on Redman seems firm. In his last conversation with Cunningham on Monday, Billick made clear there is no open competition for Redman's backup spot.

The Ravens want to groom Redman for the future, and his next step is taking the second-most repetitions in practice behind Grbac. A third-round draft pick in 2000, Redman primarily worked with the scout team last season.

For that reason, Billick said he doesn't want Redman to be threatened if the team adds Cunningham. There is still a possibility Redman could emerge the Ravens' top replacement for Grbac this season if he progresses enough.

"It's not a reflection on Chris," Billick said. "We'd like very much for Chris to develop as that No. 2.

"I can't imagine having actually seen Chris perform to a certain degree that there would be anything that happens in preseason that would change that. The key is his growth is going to come by being the No. 2 guy, not just in preseason, but throughout the entire year."

When the Ravens begin their minicamp Friday, the third quarterback is expected to be Ortege Jenkins, an undrafted rookie free agent out of the University of Arizona. Jenkins, who has reached an oral agreement with the Ravens, is known more for his athleticism than his arm strength.

That's why the Ravens would prefer Cunningham as the third quarterback when training camp opens in three months.

Cunningham already has a history with Billick in Minnesota, throwing for 3,704 yards and 34 touchdowns with the Vikings in his 1998 NFL MVP season. Last season with the Dallas Cowboys, he started three games (1-2) and finished two others, completing 59 percent of his passes for 849 yards and six touchdowns.

The Cowboys have since signed former Ravens starting quarterback Tony Banks and used their top draft pick on Georgia's Quincy Carter.

"I think his comfort zone here is clearly with me, the system and to leave with a ring," Billick said. "That all lends itself to it being a good match. We're still a ways from that actually happening, but it's a very real possibility."

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