The Ravens traded for Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh yesterday, a move that could have even further impact on the organization because it may lead to the signing of Tampa Bay running back Errict Rhett and the departure of former starting quarterback Vinny Testaverde.
The Ravens traded a third-round draft pick to the Colts, and then flopped picks with Indianapolis in the fourth round. The Ravens will pick first in the fourth round and Indianapolis 10th. The second part of the equation is vital because Tampa Bay wanted a fourth-round pick for the disgruntled Rhett, 27, and now the Buccaneers would have the top pick in the round if they trade with the Ravens.
Rhett's agent, Eugene Parker, did not return calls yesterday.
"We're going to hear something on that soon, we hope," said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda.
According to Ravens owner Art Modell, the team will pick up Harbaugh's contract that will pay him a base salary of $2.5 million in 1998 and $3.25 million in 1999. Harbaugh, 34, will be reunited with Marchibroda, the former Indianapolis coach who with Harbaugh brought the Colts within a Hail Mary touchdown pass of going to the 1995 Super Bowl. Indianapolis lost to Pittsburgh, 20-16, in the AFC championship game.
Marchibroda hedged on saying that Harbaugh was the team's starting quarterback yesterday, but strongly hinted that he was leaning that way even though Testaverde has three years and $15 million left on his contract.
Sources close to Testaverde have said he would ask to be traded or work out an arrangement not to play in Baltimore next season if the team signed another starting quarterback. Harbaugh said he knew he was on the trading block shortly after Indianapolis' season ended in late December.
"Well, this morning I got the news I was traded to Baltimore," Harbaugh said. "I had a gut feeling I was going to be traded all along, but it's still a shock. But the more I think about it, the more excited I get. I have a good history with Coach Marchibroda, I've played my best football with Ted.
"I have the whole off-season to get to know my teammates and I know they are a good young team with a good offensive line," he said. "I know what to expect from Ted and he has a great knowledge of the game. The thing in Indy, he just said, 'Let 'er rip.' I hope to hear him say that again."
Marchibroda said: "Jim is an outstanding quarterback. He has been in the playoffs in two of his last three seasons, and I have to say he will play a whole lot. He is a fine passer and plays well
outside the pocket. He can take a hit and brings toughness and leadership to the Ravens. I think the fans of Baltimore will be able to identify with this type of guy."
Image and public relations may have played a part in the team's decision to choose Harbaugh over the Ravens bringing former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly out of a one-year retirement. Salary demands as well as attitudes and mobility also were critical factors.
Kelly and Harbaugh were two of the team's four options, but lately the team seemed to sour on possibly trading up in the draft for either Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf or Tennessee's Peyton Manning as well as trading for Carolina's Kerry Collins.
The team had high hopes for Kelly, 38, but the former Pro Bowl quarterback never gained much of a fan support base in Baltimore with the team heading into a new publicly funded stadium. Privately, several Ravens' front-office members were critical of the way his agent and brother, Dan Kelly, handled the talks with the team and called them "overly aggressive."
Jim Kelly reportedly wanted a three-year contract worth $1.5 million each year in base salary and a signing bonus of $5 million. He also wanted a "no-benching clause" for the first season. Harbaugh came at nearly the same price as Kelly's signing bonus.
"From the games we watched where he [Harbaugh] played and was able to finish them, he played extremely well," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel. "Jim has been to the AFC championship game, he has been to the playoffs. He is familiar with our system and has a passion for the game. This came out to be the best deal for the Ravens."
Both Newsome and Modell hinted that Kelly's desire to play might have been questionable. Modell recently said he was concerned about Kelly's statement about possibly not returning after seeing Detroit quarterback Scott Mitchell leave the game with a concussion. Kelly also has a son Hunter, who has been diagnosed with Krabbe's disease, which forced him to deliberate on a decision to return again for months.
And then there is his mobility.
Kelly has little and was bothered by injuries late in his career. Harbaugh is known to pass on the run and improvise, which is critical for a team that plays in the AFC Central where two of the teams, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, use zone blitz schemes. Marchibroda has emphasized using more sprint and rollout passes next season.
In 11 seasons, Harbaugh has completed 1,769 passes on 2,989 attempts (59.2 percentage rate) for 20,272 yards, 99 touchdowns with 82 interceptions. He also has 18 rushing touchdowns while gaining 2,465 yards rushing on 471 carries. Last season Harbaugh threw for 2,060 yards and 10 touchdowns for an 86.2 quarterback rating.
"The acquisition upgrades our quarterback position significantly," Modell said. "People were saying Kelly, but we weren't. No one knows more about both of these players than Ted Marchibroda. There were concerns about Kelly's arm strength and so forth while Harbaugh came away pretty clean. But the final decision was Ted Marchibroda's."
Sources close to the team said Kelly was notified yesterday morning about the Ravens' decision.
"I understand the commitment it takes to perform in the NFL and I know that I can still play," Kelly said in a prepared statement. "However, it wouldn't be fair to the coaches and the team if my thoughts were elsewhere, with my son Hunter."
Harbaugh is expected to visit the Ravens' Owings Mills facility Tuesday night and be available for a news conference the next day. The Ravens also would like to have Rhett in town soon, too. They want to make him one of the feature backs along with rookie Jay Graham now that the team no longer has interest in Bam Morris.
Rhett, 5 feet 11 and 211 pounds, gained more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons before having a contract dispute with Buccaneers ownership, which led him to miss six games in 1996. He spent last year backing up rookie Warrick Dunn.
The Ravens would have to negotiate a new contract with Rhett, unlike Harbaugh, because Rhettis a restricted free agent. Rhett is expected to make nearly $450,000 with Tampa Bay this season.
The Harbaugh deal and the possible signing of Rhett havestirred a lot of excitement within the Ravens' organization. Modell has promised an elite team for next season and he is off to a strong start including a visit by Green Bay cornerback Doug Evans on Tuesday night. (Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Yancey Thigpen was supposed to visit the Ravens tonight, but yesterday signed with the Tennessee Oilers.)
In addition, the Ravens have had opening talks with free agents Jeff Lageman, a defensive end with Jacksonville, New England Patriots fullback Sam Gash, Buffalo cornerback Jeff Burris, San Diego running back Gary Brown and New Orleans strong side linebacker Richard Harvey.
"He [Modell] looks like he is making all the necessary changes to make this a better football team," said Ravens second-year middle linebacker Ray Lewis. "Jim Harbaugh is the kind of guy that will push himself through anything and he has the kind of attitude to make things happen. Despite what people say, I know Rhett personally and he is a hard-working guy. It looks like he [Modell] is doing what other teams have been doing to win Super Bowls."
Added center Wally Williams: "Whatever works, whatever the organization thinks, I'll go for that. Maybe he'll provide the spark everyone is looking for."
"Sounds and looks like he is trying to make some big moves," said Ravens outside linebacker Peter Boulware. "Rhett is a tough runner, he is a combination of a lot of things. Jim Harbaugh is a very tough competitor. We're a team that is making a move."
Pub Date: 2/15/98