Daniel M. Snyder has yet to close on his $800 million purchase of the Washington Redskins, but he has already angered one of the league's most eminent figures, Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell.

Modell this week filed a grievance with the NFL to protest Snyder's hiring of David Cope, the Ravens' star salesman for upscale club seats, suites and sponsorships.

Modell said yesterday he believed the Redskins' prospective owners secretly negotiated with Cope for a month and then sprang the deal on the Ravens, without notice at the last minute, leaving Modell's franchise vulnerable at a critical time.

"They stole him," Modell said yesterday. "There was a sense of morality that was lacking in this instance. I don't want to do business with that ilk; they should have called and let me know."

Modell said he fired Cope last Saturday after learning the employee was quitting to join the Redskins.

The NFL's Constitution and Bylaws forbid teams from tampering with players, coaches and employees of other teams if they are under contract or "the property of another member club." Penalties can range from losing a draft choice for tampering with football personnel to cash compensation for administrative employees.

Snyder spokesman Karl Swanson said yesterday that Snyder had a "friendly" telephone conversation with Ravens President David Modell, the owner's son, prior to the Redskins' hiring of Cope. David Modell was out of town yesterday and unavailable to comment.

Swanson said the Redskins were aware of the rules governing contacting other team's personnel and asked the NFL for its opinion on hiring Cope, whom Swanson said was not under contract with the Ravens. The NFL responded after Cope was hired, Swanson said.

"Basically, this a free country," Swanson said.

Snyder and the trustees of the estate of the late Jack Kent Cooke still haven't closed on the team, so Snyder is not the official owner yet and may not be subject to NFL rules. The trustees for the Cooke estate are expected to close on the deal within two weeks.

"That adds a new wrinkle to the issue," NFL spokesman Joe Browne said. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has authority to grant or reject the grievance.

"We'll review the complaint as quickly as possible," Browne said.

Both teams were in agreement last week to try to start a home-and-home preseason series. "We hope this situation will not affect those plans," said Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' vice president for public relations.

Cope, 35, is one of the hottest young sports marketers in the country, bringing the Ravens a 20-year, $105 million naming rights deal for PSINet Stadium last year.

He also helped sell a breakthrough naming rights deal for MCI Arena and helped in the early years at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The stadium is a national model for its use of signage and its fan comfort.

Messages left for Cope seeking comment were not returned.

The trustees for the estate of the late Jack Kent Cooke are expected to give a final signoff on the sale of the Redskins within the next two weeks.

Modell said he fired Cope last Saturday after learning the employee was quitting to join the Redskins.

Redskins Notes: The Redskins have signed seventh-round draft pick Tim Alexander, a wide receiver from Oregon State, to a three-year deal for the NFL minimum. Alexander is scheduled to earn an annual salary of $175,000, $250,000 and $325,000 in successive years of the contract. In addition, he will receive a $30,000 signing bonus. . . . Redskins officials appear to be moving closer to a deal that would bring left tackle Andy Heck, 32, to the team. Heck (6 feet 6, 298 pounds), a 10-year NFL veteran from Fairfax, was released this year by Chicago. He played five seasons with Chicago and five for the Seattle Seahawks.

CAPTION: Ravens owner Art Modell filed a grievance with the NFL over the Redskins' hiring of his salesman.