Modell short of nothing but cap room

December 26, 1996|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Art Modell wants to correct a misconception.

The Ravens have enough cash to rebuild.

They just need more room under the salary cap.

"It's not money so much as the cap," the Ravens owner said Tuesday. "I've got unlimited resources -- bank credits galore."

So, never mind that the NFL rejected the Ravens' financial plan because the team wanted to borrow too much money.

Modell said that the Ravens can afford to sign free agents, such as Pittsburgh linebacker Chad Brown, this off-season.

He also said the franchise can afford to sign the No. 4 pick in the draft, and would trade down only if it could add several players to improve the team.

"This talk about trading down because of financial constraints is an absurdity," Modell said.

What's the problem then?

The Ravens have the money, and unlike last off-season, when they were preoccupied with their move from Cleveland, they have the time.

They know what they need -- defensive help in several areas and perhaps a breakaway runner to take the load off Bam Morris.

And they know what they must do -- part with several high-priced veterans and perhaps restructure contracts to create room under the cap.

No more excuses.

If the Ravens act boldly, shrewdly and creatively, they can get better.

Modell said the Ravens' entire organization will meet at the Owings Mills training complex Jan. 10 to chart the team's off-season plans.

He declined to comment on the futures of offensive tackle Tony Jones, safety Eric Turner and defensive end Anthony Pleasant, saying that likely will be determined at the meeting.

"If it lasts two days, it will last two days," Modell said. "We're going to discuss our team, especially on defense. It's obvious to me we have multiple needs defensively. That will dictate what we do in the draft."

The appeal of trading down, Modell said, is not to save money, though Jonathan Ogden commanded a $6.8 million signing bonus as the No. 4 pick last year, as opposed to the $1.3 million bonus Ray Lewis received at No. 26.

"Everything we're doing now has been programmed and budgeted for two years. We had the same constraints last year and took two No. 1s," Modell said, referring to Ogden and Lewis.

RTC "What appeals to me about trading down from the fourth spot would be to pick up three, four or five choices. Out of that, you can find some pretty good football players.

"Over the years, I've had far more success drafting second-, third- and fourth-rounders than first-rounders -- except for this past year."

Sounds logical enough, but the Ravens' draft strategy will hinge on whether they re-sign their own players -- most notably Pleasant and Turner -- and whether they add a free-agent pass rusher, such as Brown.

Last winter, they did not have enough cap money to sign Kevin Greene, another free-agent linebacker from Pittsburgh, who went on to become the NFL sack leader with Carolina.

This winter, they'll have nearly $5.1 million count against the cap from the salaries of four departed players -- Andre Rison, Pepper Johnson, Don Griffin and Leroy Hoard.

Chad Brown?

"He's somebody who would have to be considered, of course," Modell said. "We'll consider any and all. I didn't come from Cleveland to Baltimore -- and go through purgatory to get here -- to lose.

"I want to establish a winning mode before we move into the new stadium at Camden Yards. The winning mode has to start in 1997. We'll look at everyone, and then some."

But is Modell solvent enough to restructure the contracts of selected veterans, giving them signing bonuses while reducing their base salaries to create more room under the cap?

"We can do that," Modell said. "You can stretch the bonus over a period of three to four years.

"But you don't want to do that too much, or it eventually catches up with you, as it did with Rison, Hoard and [Bernie] Kosar. The cap problem surfaces downstream."

That is, if the franchise continues making poor decisions. When a player is released, the remainder of his prorated signing bonus counts against the cap the next year, creating a domino effect that hinders the franchise.

The trick is to make the right calls on veterans and purge high-priced waste. That could require a hard decision on a former All-Pro like Turner, who will earn $3 million next season. But the Ravens appear to have little choice.

"Within these cap constraints, we've got to find better football players," Modell said. "If it means letting experienced veterans go and picking up two free agents for the same money to fill two holes, we may do that."

How much can the Ravens accomplish? Probably not as much as they'd like. But Modell said he still believes the Ravens can be an elite team by the time their new downtown stadium opens in 1998.

"That's not as big a promise as Jack Kent Cooke made," Modell said, referring to the Washington Redskins owner. "He promised a Super Bowl next year."

Cooke predicted a playoff berth for the Redskins after their 7-1 start -- "We know we're going to the playoffs; that's as inevitable as tomorrow, but not quite as imminent" -- and also said the team would reach the Super Bowl in 1997.

"I neither have his daring nor his charm," Modell said. "We're going to be an elite team sooner than later. If it starts coming in '97, that's a bonus. But for sure, it'll come in '98."

We'll hold him to his word.

No more excuses.

Pub Date: 12/26/96

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