Passing thought for Ravens: Adding Stewart is bad idea

May 28, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

SHALL WE LAUGH now and cry later?

The Ravens, who had the league's least-productive passing game and 31st-ranked quarterback a year ago, might sign the worst-rated passer from 2003 as a backup.

Poor Jamal Lewis. His team's passing game might be nearly invisible for a second straight year. Poor Jim Fassel. He came here to rebuild an offense, hoping to get another shot as a head coach in the NFL, and the Ravens are about to dump a puppet on him.

That former job opening in Buffalo ain't looking too bad now, is it, Jimmy?

Right now, Kordell Stewart looks like he's the backup to Kyle Boller. Team officials said they will wait until after June 1, when the second period of free agency begins, to see who else becomes available, but Stewart fits the Ravens' needs.

First of all, he's cheap, worth about the league veteran minimum of slightly more than $700,000. Secondly, the Ravens can jerk him around. He either plays here as a backup and then relinquishes the job to Anthony Wright about Game 4, or he can help Randall Cunningham put together gospel music tapes.

"I have no job, and when you don't have one and someone offers you one, you take it," Stewart said yesterday. "It's like seeing water in the fountain. If you're thirsty enough, you'll drink it."

The Ravens don't have much of a choice, either. Neither Kurt Warner nor Tim Couch will want to come here as a bargain backup to Boller, who has started only nine games. Plus, Warner's body might be as worn out as his arm, and Couch was run out of Cleveland because when it comes to intelligence, he makes former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw look like a Rhodes scholar.

So that leaves Baltimore with old Slash, who might be the best receiver on the team, and that includes recently signed Kevin Johnson.

"The tank is still full; it's 94 octane," said Stewart, 31. "I've been working out real hard for the last four months, and I'm in the best shape I've been in for a long time. When there is that period of uncertainty, you respond by getting in great shape or you can sit around and feel sorry for yourself.

"So far, so good, as far as the preliminary dealings with Baltimore," said Stewart, who expects to visit the Ravens next week. "I look forward to working with Ray Lewis, Jamal Lewis and coach Brian Billick, who has an offensive mind and can put the right people in the right places."

Except at quarterback. Billick, though, can't be blamed for this mess. Someone on the team's medical staff has to be accountable for failing to diagnose Wright's torn shoulder.

So, the Ravens would have two inaccurate quarterbacks in Boller and Stewart. Stewart had a 56.8 quarterback rating and posted a .502 completion percentage last season, both of which were the lowest among NFL starters. Boller had a 62.4 rating and .518 completion percentage.

Boller, at least, was a rookie. Usually, teams bring in veterans like Kerry Collins or Neil O'Donnell to work with young quarterbacks, but the Ravens might bring in Stewart, who has connected on less than 56 percent of his passes in five of nine seasons. He has more career interceptions (84) than touchdown passes (77).

Who is going to tutor whom?

Neither Boller nor Stewart is a smooth ballhandler. You cringe when Stewart is at the goal line, because he has a habit of leaping over the line of scrimmage at the 1 and leaving the ball behind at the 3.

He has been known to whiff while throwing, which, of course, makes him a perfect fit in Baltimore, where we've had some of the game's greatest whiffers in Vinny Testaverde, Tony Banks and Jeff Blake, guys who mysteriously tripped over the lines on the field.

Boller is no Fred Astaire in the backfield, either. Remember him colliding with guard Bennie Anderson last year in the Rams game?

Most fans in Baltimore dislike Stewart. It's the Pittsburgh thing, you know.

"Of course, they shouldn't like me; I spanked them every time," Stewart said. "That's to be expected. At first, you're the enemy, but if things work out, I'll now become a friend and family member. I can't say anything bad about Pittsburgh. I left there 14th all time in rushing yards and second in total passing yards to a quarterback who brought them four Super Bowl titles.

"In Chicago, I knew about the situation there, but it was an opportunity to start," said Stewart, who was cut by the Bears in March. "There wasn't any style there, just a lot of uncertainty and confusion. A lot of times, I was out there just playing and trying to save my soul. But the situation is different in Baltimore. There is more stability."

A friend of mine says he'll turn in his tickets if the Ravens sign Stewart. One fan said he was starting fan clubs for the return of Stoney Case, Chris Redman and Blake. Another said he would prefer the return of Elvis.

Anybody but Stewart ...

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