QB market no place for Ravens to shop

February 16, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

BARRING ANY unforeseen salary cap casualties during the next two weeks, the Ravens should stay their course of re-signing quarterback Jeff Blake and, if possible, select a quarterback in the NFL draft. The only change they should make is not guaranteeing Blake the starting job and instead opening it up for competition between Blake and fourth-year player Chris Redman.

Of course, Blake's return could depend on the team's offering him a starting spot, and if that's the case, then say goodbye. But if you look at the current quarterbacks who are expected to become free agents Feb. 28, there is no one to get overly excited about, or one worth throwing away a year's investment in Blake.

Jake Plummer? Despite hardball reports from Arizona, it's hard to imagine the Cardinals allowing him to leave. New Orleans' Jake Delhomme? He has about as much experience as Redman. That leaves us with players like Tony Banks, Rick Mirer and Gus Frerotte.

Oh, no.

We've all heard about the possibility of Pittsburgh's Kordell Stewart becoming a free agent because of salary cap concerns, but he is nothing more than a young Blake, just as erratic and inconsistent. Denver's Brian Griese might become another cap casualty, but he is as soft as Elvis Grbac.

There is talk that Cleveland might want to trade Tim Couch and Jacksonville is willing to part with Mark Brunell, but that's all gossip. They'll come with hefty price tags, too hefty for a team like the Ravens, who have a lot of money but also a lot of holes to fill.

There are too many ifs. Stay the course for now.

"We will look at everybody right now," Ravens head coach Brian Billick said. "This is not a great free-agent market, and some players might become loose to change that, but our inclination is to bring back both Jeff and Chris. Chris' rehab is going well, even though there is the potential for it to flare up again. But if we get Jeff back, that will give us the balance needed going into training camp."

The Ravens were 4-6 with Blake as the starter last season. He didn't throw the long ball as well as advertised, and he's as clumsy as Maxwell Smart in certain situations. That poorly thrown interception in the final minute of the last game against Pittsburgh left a bad taste in all of our mouths.

But in the final four games of the season, the Ravens' offense was efficient, and, at times, explosive (see Steelers). If Redman is the starter, then the offense just becomes efficient.

With anyone else, who knows?

The quarterback carousel has to stop. With Blake, the Ravens are at least a playoff contender if they find a few defensive linemen and a quality receiver. With a new face behind center, it would be gambling time again. The Ravens are faced with two evils.

"When you're looking for a quarterback, you're looking for someone who can manage the game, has the ability to carry out the game plan, has good arm strength and leadership ability," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said.

Of those who might become available, including Blake, only Brunell is close to the total package, and again, he would be costly. Blake needs to work on his leadership abilities, becoming more accountable and a stand-up guy.

When was the last time you heard him say it was his fault?

Lack of leadership skills has also been the knock on Griese. He is a loner, like Grbac. His threshold of pain isn't high, just like Grbac's. There isn't a spot for Elvis' little brother.

Stewart wouldn't give the Ravens much more than Blake. Sure, he has more elusiveness, but Blake has a stronger arm. Blake can look bad by muffing a fumble, but how many times has Stewart fumbled an exchange at the opponent's 1? He has been inconsistent not only quarter to quarter, but also season to season.

Delhomme has two starts in five seasons, throwing a total of 86 passes. He has completed 58.1 percent of those with only three touchdowns and five interceptions. Redman completed 97 of 182 passes for 1,034 yards and seven touchdowns (with just three interceptions) this past season before a back injury sidelined him. Delhomme is 28; Redman is 25.

Who has more of an upside?

There seems to be a clamor in this town for Plummer, 28, who should be hitting his prime. But in six seasons, he has taken Arizona to the playoffs just once. The Cardinals won just five games last year, their fourth straight losing season.

Those who favor Plummer say he has not had offensive talent around him in Arizona, but who has been surrounding the quarterbacks in Baltimore? Receivers Travis Taylor, Brandon Stokley and Ron Johnson. Not exactly Pro Bowl talent.

Going into last season, Plummer had 94 interceptions compared with Blake's 72 after 10 seasons. Plus, it's hard to imagine the Cardinals choosing to go with second-year quarterback Josh McCown.

The Ravens need to look toward the draft. Ten to 12 college quarterbacks are worth considering, including Marshall's Byron Leftwich, Southern California's Carson Palmer, Florida's Rex Grossman, Texas' Chris Simms, Louisville's Dave Ragone, Miami's Ken Dorsey, Boston College's Brian St. Pierre and Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury.

As of now, there is nothing in free agency that wows you. Just because the Ravens have cap room, they shouldn't become riverboat gamblers. Last year, the Ravens went 7-9 with a rebuilt defense, revamped special teams, two new quarterbacks, a running back rebounding from reconstructive knee surgery and injuries that forced two major defensive players to miss most of the season.

They shouldn't change for the sake of change -- just make a move if it would be a substantial upgrade.

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