'Skins pick off Ravens' pass at QB; Redskins deal 3 picks for Vikings' Johnson, beating 2-choice offer; OT Brown rejoins Cleveland; 'We were not going to bankrupt this' team

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Ravens offered two 1999 draft picks, including their No. 1 selection and 10th overall choice, but the Washington Redskins successfully outbid them for veteran quarterback Brad Johnson last night in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings. The Ravens are expected to pursue their second option and begin serious talks with Detroit Lions quarterback Scott Mitchell today.

The Redskins traded their No. 1 pick this year, 11th overall, while also offering a third-round selection in 1999 and a second-round pick in 2000. The Ravens, according to a team source, offered the 10th overall pick in 1999 as well as a third-round pick, but were reluctant to give up the second-round pick in 2000.

Mitchell's agent, Tony Agnone, confirmed last night that he had a meeting planned today with Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel.

In another deal last night, Ravens right offensive tackle Orlando Brown agreed to a six-year contract with the expansion Cleveland Browns that is worth nearly $26 million and includes a $7.5 million signing bonus, according to league and team sources.

The Ravens never made a serious offer to Brown or center/guard Wally Williams, who signed with the New Orleans Saints Saturday.

Both the Ravens and Agnone already have said that they would negotiate a new deal with Mitchell, 31, who has two years left on his Lions contract for a total of $9 million. But the Ravens may have to pay in draft picks to the Lions, who will suffer a $4 million salary cap hit if they trade the left-handed quarterback. There is also the possibility the Ravens could wait until June 1 when the Lions are expected to cut Mitchell.

Ravens coach Brian Billick said last night that former Oakland Raiders quarterback Jeff George is also an option for the Ravens.

"I'm very comfortable with the sequence of events," said Billick, Johnson's offensive coordinator in Minnesota. "There were several scenarios we had gone over in our talks with the Vikings, and there was not going to be any 11th-hour negotiations. No one knows Brad Johnson better than me. I tutored him every day for seven years. I know all the pluses and minuses of Brad, no one knows his worth better than me. We were not going to bankrupt this franchise now or in the future by giving up all those draft choices for this one player."

Carefully weighing the player's worth also carried over to Brown, whose career now goes full circle back to Cleveland six years after coming out of South Carolina State as an unheralded free agent.

"I'm thrilled for Orlando," Billick said. "I think it's great. We have to be very careful how to allocate, whether it's in free agency or draft picks. Cleveland has empty pockets, but we're not going to break the bank on any certain player. We'll be active in the free-agent market and I still firmly believe that there are a number of quality linemen available."

There was speculation that Brown, 6 feet 7 and 350 pounds, was going to be the Ravens' franchise player this season, but the front office never felt comfortable with the designation. The Ravens didn't want to guarantee Brown a one-year salary of $3 million after a subpar showing in 1998.

Brown was one of the better tackles in 1996 and 1997, but never played up to potential last season. For the past three seasons, he has struggled with ankle problems.

Brown's departure leaves the Ravens with Jonathan Ogden at left tackle, Jeff Blackshear at right guard, Jeff Mitchell at center and James Atkins as a swing player.

As for quarterback, "we have other options, and yes, Scott Mitchell's our next option," said Billick. "During these times, most of our focus has been on Brad Johnson and Scott Mitchell. Now we will gear most of our effort toward Mitchell."

Agnone said: "Our preference has always been for Scott to play in Baltimore, not Washington. Scott has led the Lions to three postseason appearances. He is sturdy and dependable. He approaches the game in a businesslike manner and anything else you may have heard about him is pure speculation."

Mitchell was benched for the season in the second game last year when he threw an interception in overtime that was returned 53 yards for a touchdown in a 34-28 loss to Cincinnati. It was the deciding factor for Lions coach Bobby Ross, who was upset by Mitchell's poor play in the preseason. Mitchell also was reportedly unpopular with his teammates.

The Ravens had been involved in negotiations with the Vikings for several weeks and seemed to be the only team bidding for Johnson after Seattle and the New York Giants dropped out last week. But Washington entered the Johnson sweepstakes after the St. Louis Rams agreed to a four-year, $16.5 million contract with Redskins starting quarterback Trent Green yesterday.

Green's signing probably also ended any chance the Ravens had of trading quarterback Jim Harbaugh to the Rams.

The Redskins had two picks, the No. 5 and No. 11, in the first round, which means they had more room to make a deal than the Ravens.

"It's too high a price for us," said Ravens president David Modell. "I'm disappointed we didn't get it done, and happy we evaluated the situation appropriately for us. We did, in fact, go out swinging. We thought we had options all the way through. We'll continue to pursue these options."

George entered the market after the Raiders recently signed Rich Gannon to a four-year, $16 million contract. George, 31, missed most of last season with a torn groin. He completed 93 of 169 passes for 1,186 yards and four touchdowns. He is generally regarded as one of the most talented quarterbacks, but also one of the most egotistical.

But Billick helped build the career of Johnson and then rebuilt the Vikings' offense around veteran Randall Cunningham. Now he has to do it with probably Mitchell or maybe even George.

"This scenario was not new to us, we've discussed it," Billick said of George. "That certainly affects the options available to a number of teams. He has some tremendous skills. Brad Johnson has pluses and minuses. Jeff George has pluses and minuses. Everybody has them."

Just like deciding between the Redskins and Ravens, as the Vikings did.

"In the initial stages, it appeared that Baltimore was much more of a legitimate possibility," said Phil Williams, Johnson's agent. "He knows Brian and likes Brian. He would have been very happy with that. But the fact is, Washington is the one who has traded for him. He has adjusted his thinking."

Minnesota seemed happy with its return for Johnson, who has two years left on a $15.5 million, four-year contract.

"We got a lot of valuable coupons today, and how we redeem those coupons will tell the story," Vikings general manager Tim Connolly said.

Pub Date: 2/16/99

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