Cunningham agrees to 1-year Ravens deal

Backup quarterback to finish career here

Pro Football

May 30, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Randall Cunningham called last season in Dallas the most difficult of his 15-year career, enough to make him want to retire and devote his life fully to the gospel music industry.

The persuasive power of Ravens coach Brian Billick, though, changed the heart and mind of Cunningham, who officially agreed to a one-year deal worth $500,000 plus incentives yesterday.

It took Cunningham, 38, more than a month to assure himself that he was making the right choice, after one injury-marred season as a backup in Dallas, where he went 1-2 as a starter.

Cunningham said the Cowboys told him he would be the starter, then told him they were not going to re-sign him a few hours later. The news made Cunningham want to get out of football.

"I went back and forth with the decision, especially after seeing them release all those veterans in Dallas," Cunningham said.

But the lure of reuniting with Billick and possibly winning a Super Bowl for the first time was enough for Cunningham to come back for his 16th season. Billick was offensive coordinator in Minnesota while Cunningham was a quarterback in 1997 and 1998.

The two helped set a league record with 556 points in 1998, the year Cunningham won the NFL's Most Valuable Player Award after throwing for 34 touchdowns and 3,704 yards.

Cunningham's role will be different with the Ravens. He will be listed as the No. 3 quarterback behind Elvis Grbac and Chris Redman. If Grbac gets hurt for a significant amount of time, Cunningham could move past Redman into the starting lineup because of his experience.

"To have a veteran presence, every team covets that," Billick said. "All you have to do is look at Tennessee and what Neil O'Donnell did for them last year. Having a Trent Dilfer for us to be able to go to was huge. Hopefully, you won't get to Randall. Hopefully, Elvis can stay healthy throughout. But if the situation calls for it, to have someone with Randall's veteran presence will be a huge asset to us."

Cunningham, who said he'll wear No. 1 this season, flirted with the Oakland Raiders but did not discuss a contract.

"I respect [Raiders coach Jon] Gruden," Cunningham said. "But Brian just made the right call at the right time."

The signing strengthens a Ravens team that, on paper, looks to be better than the one that won the Super Bowl.

"It will be my last season," Cunningham said. "I wanted to be able to go out with the Super Bowl champs."

NOTE: Billick launched a campaign to promote his new book, "Competitive Leadership: Twelve Principles for Success," at the Living Classrooms Foundation. Billick is donating 50 percent of the proceeds to the foundation, which provides hands-on education and job training for 30,000 youths a year. Billick will sign copies of the book tomorrow at Barnes & Noble stores in Bel Air from 9-11 a.m., in Towson from 1-3 p.m. and at the Inner Harbor from 4-6 p.m. The proceeds from tomorrow's sales go entirely to Living Classrooms.

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