The source said Ravens vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome and Minnesota Vikings vice president Jeff Diamond may have had a brief discussion by phone yesterday, and the Vikings would like to complete a deal for Johnson by the end of next week.
Newsome said yesterday that he expected to speak with Vikings officials early next week, but would not go into details about the negotiations. But a league source said the Vikings initially wanted the Ravens' first-round draft pick, No. 10 overall, and defensive end Michael McCrary in the trade for Johnson, which the Ravens rejected.
McCrary, 6 feet 4 and 270 pounds, led the Ravens and was second in the AFC in sacks last season with 14 1/2. He was also second on the team in tackles with 102 and earned the first Pro Bowl appearance of his six-year career.
Since then, according to the source, the Vikings have backed down, but still want the Ravens' first-round pick and possibly quarterback Jim Harbaugh as a backup to Randall Cunningham if Harbaugh is willing to restructure his contract that will pay him $3.5 million next season. The St. Louis Rams also have inquired about Harbaugh.
Many people throughout the league say the Ravens have the inside track on signing Johnson among the teams interested because of coach Brian Billick's close friendship with Johnson as well as strong ties among Vikings coach Dennis Green, Billick and Newsome. Besides the Ravens, Seattle reportedly has the strongest interest in Johnson, 30.
Detroit Lions quarterback Scott Mitchell, 31, is a second option. Mitchell, who recently completed the second year of a four-year contract worth $21 million, was benched after the second game last season when he completed 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.
Johnson has two years left on a $15.5 million contract, but it's likely the Vikings will 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.
The Ravens have compiled a list of other quarterback prospects but haven't talked to any other teams. A team source yesterday said it is doubtful at this time that the team would get into a bidding contest for Cincinnati quarterback Jeff Blake, who is under contract, or Bengals unrestricted free-agent wide receiver Carl Pickens.
The club, though, has begun talks with the agent for wide receiver Floyd Turner, an unrestricted free agent who had 32 catches for 512 yards and five touchdowns as a part-time starter for the Ravens last season.
Harbaugh, 35, struggled with elbow and finger injuries during the first seven games last season. He finished the year having completed 164 of 293 passes for 1,839 yards, 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Pub Date: 2/06/99