The Ravens are involved in preliminary talks that might lead to acquiring quarterbacks Scott Mitchell of Detroit or Brad Johnson of Minnesota, as well as possibly sending present quarterback Jim Harbaugh to the St. Louis Rams, according to a league source.
Neither Ravens owner Art Modell nor team vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome would comment on the discussions, and coach Brian Billick was unavailable for comment. But the league source said Newsome has had several discussions with the personnel chiefs of both Minnesota and Detroit. Both Mitchell and Johnson are under contract to their teams.
Johnson 30, would be the top candidate to replace Harbaugh since he played under Billick for several seasons in Minnesota when Billick was the Vikings' offensive coordinator. But Johnson has drawn the interest of several teams and would be more costly for the Ravens to sign. The Vikings are believed to be asking for a top-10 pick in the draft and a backup quarterback for Johnson, possibly Harbaugh in the Ravens' case if Harbaugh would restructure his contract.
Mitchell, 31, who recently completed the second year of a four-year contract worth $21 million, was benched after the second game of the 1998 season when he completed only 38 of 74 passes for 452 yards and just one touchdown with three interceptions. The Lions are expected to cut him around the first week of June.
Billick has already heaped a lot of praise on Johnson, who, like Mitchell, lost his starting job early last season and then watched his replacement, Randall Cunningham, lead the Vikings to the NFC championship game.
Johnson has two years left on a $15.5 million contract he signed two years ago, but it's likely the Vikings would trade him before March 1 because he is scheduled to collect a $1.15 million roster bonus. Johnson has missed 15 games the past two seasons with a neck injury, a broken leg and a broken thumb.
Harbaugh, 35, also struggled with elbow and finger injuries on his right throwing arm during the first seven games last season. Harbaugh finished the year having completed 164 of 293 pases for 1,839 yards, 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He was traded to the Ravens from the Indianapolis Colts last Feb. 14 and has a year left on his contract worth $3.5 million.
"I guess I talked to Brian about a week ago and he said it was basically just to touch bases and he would get back to me," said Harbaugh last night. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm a Raven. I'm under contract to the Ravens and am working out to play with them next season. I'm excited about playing for him, but at the same time I know they can do whatever they want. I was traded last year."
Steve Forest, one of Harbaugh's agents, said he had not been contacted by the Ravens, and Johnson's agent, Philip Williams, said he was unaware of any offer that had been made between the Vikings and any other club.
Modell, though, did say the Ravens had not given up on Harbaugh yet. The Rams apparently don't feel the same about starting quarterback Tony Banks, who completed 241 of 408 passes for 2,535 yards and 14 interceptions last season.
"When you look at what Brian did with Randall Cunningham, a player who had been out of football for a year, then he might be able to do the same thing with Jim Harbaugh," said Modell. "From what I've seen of Brian and his staff during the past week, I'm very happy and optimistic. Most of the people in the area who have met him socially have been equally as impressed."
The Ravens plan to have a major staff meeting Tuesday to evaluate present players under contract as well as possible free-agent acquisitions.
"That's when we'll decide some things about what we want to accomplish during free agency," said Newsome. "That will be the first time we meet as a full staff."
NOTE: Jim Colletto and Rex Ryan, son of former Philadelphia Eagles coach Buddy Ryan, are the leading candidates to become the Ravens' offensive and defensive line coaches, respectively.
Pub Date: 2/05/99