Ravens size up Redman

With Grbac out at QB, team leaning toward promoting third-stringer

`He's our starter by default'

Entering third year, he's thrown 3 career passes

Cunningham also in mix

Pro Football

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

After the sudden release of Elvis Grbac, the Ravens are not in a rush to name their sixth starting quarterback in three years.

The team is favoring the plan of promoting third-string Chris Redman to starter and re-signing backup Randall Cunningham or another low-priced veteran as a backup, a league source said yesterday. The source added that the Ravens may acquire a third quarterback by selecting one in the second or third round in next month's NFL draft.

Redman, a third-round pick in 2000, is the only choice at this time because he's the only quarterback on the roster.

But the 24-year-old quarterback would be rushed into the job without much NFL game experience. He threw just three passes as a rookie in 2000 and did not take a snap in a regular-season game last year.

"Right now, Chris Redman is our guy," owner Art Modell said. "I have confidence in Chris Redman. The guys pushing him are [Colts Hall of Fame quarterback] Johnny Unitas and [Ravens director of college scouting] Phil Savage and they know quarterbacks.

"But I haven't seen him under the gun. So it would be unfair to qualify him or disqualify him."

Like Unitas, Redman played his college career at the University of Louisville. He finished as the NCAA Division I leader in all-time pass completions (1,031) and second in passing yards (12,541).

Projected to be a first-round pick two years ago, Redman fell to the third round (75th player overall) because there were questions about his mobility. But the Ravens couldn't pass on his strong and accurate arm.

After absorbing the system as the team's No. 3 quarterback in 2000, Redman was expected to move to backup last year. But Redman's inconsistent preseason in 2001 kept him as the Ravens' third-string quarterback and solidified Cunningham as the backup.

The Ravens, though, continued to groom Redman by allowing him to take the second-most reps in practice behind Grbac. Now, he has a chance to show what he has learned.

"Chris clearly has potential and will be given the opportunity to challenge for the starting job," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

The revolving door at quarterback continues to swing under Billick. After playing their third season under him, the Ravens have switched from Scott Mitchell to Stoney Case to Tony Banks to Trent Dilfer to Elvis Grbac.

The team expected stability at that position when it signed Grbac to a five-year, $30 million contract last March. But his 17 interceptions in seven losses turned off fans and his refusal to take a $5 million pay cut sealed his exit.

With little room under the NFL's $71.1 million cap, the Ravens still have to take a $4 million cap hit from Grbac in the 2002 season. For a team looking to fill 14 starting spots, the Ravens cannot afford to splurge on another quarterback.

That means bringing back Cunningham, who was 2-0 as a starter for the Ravens last year, or another inexpensive veteran like a Gus Frerotte is a likely option. Signing a more expensive quarterback like Jeff Blake is possible but not probable because of the Ravens' cap restraints. The Ravens do not plan to sign anyone until next week at the earliest.

"We still have the limitations that we have," Billick said. "That has not changed. Elvis had an opportunity to impact that. So, Chris Redman is our starter by default right now."

But re-signing Cunningham would provide insurance if Redman struggles. When Grbac missed two games last season because of injuries, Cunningham won both starts, completing 70 percent of his passes for 380 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Cunningham had contemplated retirement after his 16th season, but said he would return if Billick invited him back.

"It's a very real possibility," Billick said. "I think Randall has indicated that he'd like to come back, and that's a strong option."

Going with Cunningham as a starter is a risky proposition for Billick. He has repeatedly said that he would be hard-pressed to ask the 38-year-old Cunningham to endure a 16-game season.

"That would be my concern," Billick said. "Like anybody, whether it's a Randall or a Chris Chandler, there comes a point where the rigors of 16 games is a lot. We have to address how we want to handle that. I wouldn't preclude Randall being the starter if indeed Randall comes back."

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