Grbac released by Ravens after turbulent season

Efforts to reach deal on pay cut of $5 million fail

March 02, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens have ended two weeks of roster dismantling by releasing quarterback Elvis Grbac after one tumultuous season.

Two days of talks broke off bitterly yesterday when the Ravens and Grbac's agent, Jim Steiner, could not come close to reaching an agreement on a pay cut. Grbac, who signed a five-year, $30 million contract last March, was scheduled to make a total of $7.5 million for the 2002 season.

In a season that began with expectations of a Super Bowl repeat, Grbac struggled to win games and win over fans. The Ravens won eight of his 14 regular season starts, as he often made mistakes at crucial times.

Although the Ravens made the playoffs with a 10-6 record, the offense never jelled, and the team was whipped in the divisional playoffs by the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-10.

Steiner said the Ravens wanted Grbac to take a $5 million overall pay reduction after a disappointing season in which he finished as the National Football League's 26th-rated passer.

Grbac was willing to accept only a $3.5 million pay cut, which prompted the Ravens to release him yesterday, a day before he was due a $6 million roster bonus.

"I'm disappointed for Elvis; I'm disappointed for us," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I really felt it was in our and his best interest for him to be here. I'm looking forward to moving ahead to those challenges that are very apparent for both of us. He and his representation have made a business decision which I respect. Now, we'll both go about our business."

Strapped by the NFL's salary cap, which limits a team's spending and helps to create parity in the league, the Ravens are leaning toward promoting third-string Chris Redman to starter and re-signing Randall Cunningham or another inexpensive veteran to back him up, a league source said. The team would then add a third quarterback by drafting one in the second or third round, the source said.

Dilfer not in picture

Team officials are not considering bringing back free agent Trent Dilfer, the quarterback on the Ravens' Super Bowl-winning team last year.

Grbac's departure capped a roster overhaul in which the Ravens have let go 15 players, including nine former Pro Bowl performers, to shave $26 million off the cost of their roster and fit under the league's $71.1 million salary cap. The Ravens are down to eight of last year's 22 starters under contract.

"I'm supremely confident that we can build this team back up," owner Art Modell said. "I haven't been down this road this drastically, but I know we have assembled a championship team once before."

The abrupt release of Grbac, 31, closed out a rocky and often chaotic year with the Ravens.

Signed 37 days after the Ravens won the Super Bowl, Grbac was coming off his first Pro Bowl with a reputation for having a strong and accurate arm. The former Kansas City Chief was lauded by the Ravens as a substantial upgrade in talent over Dilfer, who was rarely spectacular, yet rarely lost.

26 turnovers

Grbac struggled to live up to those expectations, hurt by poor decisions and porous pass protection. The Ravens won nine of his 16 starts during the regular season and playoffs, as he committed 26 turnovers, including five fumbles and three interceptions returned for touchdowns.

Grbac was often booed at his home stadium, and Billick defended Grbac's job security daily.

Over the past month, former Ravens have criticized Billick's reluctance during the season to bench Grbac in favor of Cunningham. On Dec. 19, Billick lashed out at media reports discussing the possibility that the Ravens might release Grbac in the off-season. "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 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.

"It's our intention to live up to the contract."

Billick visited Grbac

Despite that unwavering public support by Billick, the Ravens front office held firm in its demands for a pay cut, believing Grbac would make more by reworking his deal with the Ravens than by venturing into the free-agent market. A week ago, Billick visited Grbac at his Cleveland home to talk over the team's stance.

Now that the two sides have left the negotiating table $1.5 million apart, Billick is resigned to parting ways.

"It was made very clear - painstakingly clear - that it was a process that would not be revisited," Billick said. "This certainly eliminates any chance of us with him being on this roster before June. It virtually eliminates any possibility of him coming back at all. But I won't eliminate it altogether."

Grbac, who is on vacation, did not return phone messages to his home.

Grbac spent the 1994 through 1996 seasons as a backup with the San Francisco 49ers. He signed as a free agent with Kansas City in 1997. In his last two seasons with the Chiefs, he threw for 50 touchdowns and was intercepted 29 times.

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