Cheap play for QB Blake costs Ravens

March 08, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

EVERY TIME Ravens coach Brian Billick goes on a peacekeeping mission, negotiations fall apart. He is no Kofi Annan.

Last year at this time, Billick flew to Cleveland to meet with then quarterback Elvis Grbac. Soon afterward, Grbac retired. Last week, Billick flew to Florida to meet with Jeff Blake, and a few days later Blake was visiting the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Billick ain't no Henry Kissinger, either.

The man must have a sour rap.

"I went down there as a show of respect," said Billick. "I could have easily told him to fly in here. I went down there to put forth a viable option about him returning as the starter and taking control of this team. This wasn't about the contract, it was about commitment.

"It was about re-establishing himself with his teammates and correcting the things he needed to do to become the legitimate starter. I truly believed that based on our conversation Jeff was not going to shop around because that would not have accomplished what we wanted here. Once he stepped on that plane, the atmosphere we wanted to create for him as the leader disappeared."

Blake made the right decision. The Ravens were blowing a lot of smoke and getting into this image-enhancement thing as a way of trying to get Blake back cheap. They leaked out this story about Blake throwing the season and game-ending interception at Pittsburgh, and then laughing and hugging Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher after the game.

Billick talked about being under a "great deal of duress from the community" about his commitment to Blake.

Talk about a setup.

When has Billick ever paid any attention to fans? Fans never wanted Scott Mitchell. They wanted Tony Banks, but got Stoney Case. Could fans have been any more vocal about inserting Randall Cunningham for Grbac? Yet Billick stuck with Grbac.

Here's the bottom line: The Ravens lowballed Blake because they didn't think there was much interest throughout the league. But when quarterbacks Jake Plummer and Jake Delhomme were taken off the market by Denver and Carolina on Thursday, the Ravens lost leverage. Blake began to shop around because there were more openings than quarterbacks available, and that basically left the Ravens with former Pittsburgh Steeler Kordell Stewart on the free-agent market.

The Ravens want to insist there was no loyalty on Blake's part, but there is very little loyalty in the NFL. Loyalty got Trent Dilfer, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, run out of town. Grbac was loyal, and the Ravens ripped him off by demanding a pay cut. Former coaches Dennis Green and Art Shell were loyal, and they are without head coaching jobs in the NFL.

You take any big money and run.

Anyone who thought Blake was going to sit around and wait for the Ravens was naive, or just plain stupid. The Ravens are notorious for lowballing players. Shoot, they even lowballed Ray Lewis in their last contract negotiations, and he is the best defensive player in the league.

The Ravens were offering Blake a three-year deal worth between $1.5 million and $2 million a season. Blake was asking for at least $1 million more, which would have been justified considering the Ravens paid Mitchell $3 million in 1999. Who is better, Mitchell or Blake? A salary of $2.5 million to $3 million a season is on par for starting NFL quarterbacks.

But the Ravens wanted a commitment and a cheap quarterback while Blake, 32, is searching for a last big payday. The Ravens went in with suggestions and demands, and apparently not a lot of money. It's arrogance. Blake should have been just as bold in making his demands. He should have made the Ravens promise that they were going to get a bona fide No. 1 receiver, a right offensive tackle that pass-blocks, and assurances that Matt Cavanaugh was no longer going to call plays and that Jamal Lewis was going to carry the ball more.

He should have reminded Billick about 1998, when he was the top coaching candidate, and how Cleveland didn't want him to visit other cities, but he chose to come to Baltimore instead before signing with the Ravens.

"A lot of my interest in Jeff returning was based on the investment we made last season, and having continuity," Billick said. "I'm disappointed that Jeff got on the plane, but I don't begrudge that decision."

It wouldn't make sense if he did. The Ravens were playing a game, and so was Blake. The Ravens would have kept on playing except Plummer and Delhomme disappeared off the market.

Checkmate.

Now Blake is gone, and Stewart has to become the No. 1 replacement because the Ravens can't afford to wait any longer. Both Stewart and Billick were saying nice things about each other yesterday. It was so sweet, so cute. The Ravens' quarterback situation is in such a lowly state that Billick has even been saying nice things about Chris Redman, who now will have a shot at competing for the starting job with anyone the Ravens bring in.

But at this point, does it really matter? The Ravens never win with offense, anyway. It wouldn't be a season without a Ravens quarterback controversy.

And it wouldn't be an offseason without Billick failing on another quarterback peace mission.

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