Ravens unload seven, $20M

Six starters are among salary cap cuts

return of Grbac still at issue

Pro Football

February 27, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Just 13 months after capturing the Super Bowl, the Ravens' fire sale officially went into full swing yesterday.

Now, one burning question remains: Will maligned quarterback Elvis Grbac be returning to the Ravens?

To fit under the league-mandated $71.1 million salary cap by Friday's deadline, the Ravens sliced $20 million off their roster yesterday by announcing they will release six starters: wide-out Qadry Ismail and tight end Shannon Sharpe, the team's two leading receivers last season; safety Rod Woodson; defensive end Rob Burnett; offensive lineman Kipp Vickers; and fullback Sam Gash. Backup defensive tackle Larry Webster also will be released.

The team also has decided against picking up the option for right tackle Leon Searcy and extending offers to fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo, linebacker Brad Jackson and kickoff specialist Danny Kight. That turns the three restricted free agents into unrestricted free agents.

But the Ravens aren't free of their salary cap problems. They need to rework the contracts of Grbac and two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Sam Adams by Friday or part ways with both.

Keeping Grbac hinges on whether the Ravens can redo a $6 million bonus that's due Friday as part of a five-year, $30 million contract he signed last March.

The Ravens are positive that Grbac will return, but the quarterback's agent said it's now 50-50 whether the 31-year-old will be back.

"I say that because it could go either way," Jim Steiner said.

The Ravens sent Steiner a proposal on Monday and indicated that they hadn't received a counteroffer as of last night.

The sticking point is whether the Ravens want to restructure the contract (lowering the cap impact by dropping a player's base salary and prorating his signing bonus over a longer contract) or simply get Grbac to take a pay cut.

Grbac is willing to renegotiate but doesn't want to get burned by an agreement last year to split his signing bonuses ($5 million last year and $6 million this year), which allowed the Ravens to squeeze under the 2001 cap.

The team said Grbac would make more money restructuring his Ravens deal than by venturing out in the free-agent market after a subpar season.

If the Ravens release Grbac, they will still absorb a $4 million cap hit, meaning they would have to free up more space by making more cuts. The club, though, is optimistic Grbac will be back.

"I believe it will get done this week," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I have no reason to believe it won't. I think all parties are motivated. I think we all want the same thing, and that's 90 percent of the battle. Now, it's just a matter of agents getting together, finding the right verbiage and to get done what they need to get done."

Although Steiner said he is willing to help the Ravens with their cap situation, he doesn't feel Grbac has to bend unfairly.

"Elvis wants to return to this football team," Steiner said. "What we are questioning is the yearlong public commitment by Brian and the private commitment stated to us by Brian, Ozzie [Newsome] and [chief negotiator] Pat Moriarity during negotiations and where we are today."

Steiner is alluding to Billick's statements on Dec. 19.

"He's my quarterback now, he's going to be my quarterback next year, hopefully the year after that and the year after that," Billick had said. "The only thing that would change that is if he chooses to A, retire -- which I doubt -- or B, God forbid, he'd get a career-ending injury."

He then added, "It's our intention to live up to the contract."

Billick backtracked yesterday, saying the Ravens can't keep Grbac unless he comes back under a different deal. The Ravens likely need Grbac to reduce his current cap number ($4 million) in half.

"There's no option," Billick said. "It has to be done. I wish it didn't. I wish we could turn right around and pick up his option. But we can't."

If a new deal is not reached, the Ravens will cut Grbac but remain open about re-signing him.

Another option for a starting quarterback would be trading for New Orleans backup Jeff Blake or signing a released veteran like former Atlanta starter Chris Chandler.

If the Ravens want to stay in-house, they could look to promote third-stringer Chris Redman, but team officials would like him established as a backup first. Re-signing backup Randall Cunningham is a possibility, but, turning 39 next month, he would be hard-pressed to endure a 16-game season as a starter.

"If we have to adjust, we will," Billick said. "We hope that we don't."

The Ravens also have submitted an offer to the agent of cornerback Duane Starks, an unrestricted free agent, and have started negotiations to keep Adams, who is due a roster bonus on Friday.

The Ravens are trying to move forward in the wake of yesterday's roster overhaul, which featured 104 years of NFL experience and 20 Pro Bowls. Add in losing linebacker Jamie Sharper and return specialist Jermaine Lewis to Houston in the expansion draft, and the Ravens have lost 10 players from their 53-man Super Bowl roster in eight days.

"When you look at the Baltimore Ravens, yeah, it's a transition," said Newsome, the club's senior vice president of football operations. "We knew that we would be facing some serious cap issues in 2002, but the opportunity to win two Super Bowls in a row was overwhelming to us. What we're facing today is not something that's unexpected. I think everybody is ready for the challenge, to get this football team back where it was before."

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