Modell zeros in on payroll Owner says Ravens in salary cap bind

February 08, 1997|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Owner Art Modell is about to change the way the Ravens do business.

"We're going to address the problem of the imbalance in our payroll," Modell said yesterday. "We're going to straighten it out."

The imbalance was illustrated in a salary survey compiled by the NFL Players Association that showed the Ravens have more than one-third of their 1997 salary cap total committed to just five players including one, Andre Rison, who is no longer on the team.

They have contracts with salary cap numbers of $3.9 million for safety Eric Turner, $3.2 million for defensive end Rob Burnett, $2.9 million for offensive tackle Tony Jones and $2.8 million for wide receiver Michael Jackson. They're also being charged for $3 million of Rison's $5 million signing bonus.

That means they have $15.8 million of 1997's salary cap figure committed to those five players. The salary cap total is expected to be about $41.3 million.

Last year's salary cap number was $40.7 million and Harold Henderson, the league's executive vice president for labor affairs, said it will probably go up no more than $600,000 this year.

The Ravens know they have to reduce the salary cap numbers of some of their top players to have enough money for a full roster and a practice squad, which they did without much of last year.

"I'm pushing to reduce our roster to a seven-man tag team," Modell said, jokingly.

Modell said the Ravens have a plan in place to address the contract situation, but wouldn't discuss specifics.

They're almost certain to trade or cut Jones, who said at the end of the season he didn't expect to be back because the Ravens have Jonathan Ogden ready to take his place. However, much of Jones' $2.9 million figure is likely to go to center Steve Everitt, who's negotiating a new deal.

They also hope to restructure the contract of Jackson, which means giving him a signing bonus spread over several years to lower the 1997 cap figure. But he has the leverage because $2.5 million of his 1997 figure is guaranteed.

They have to make decisions by March 1 on Jones, Burnett and Turner because they're scheduled to earn roster bonuses in their current deals on that date. Burnett and Turner are down for $1.3 million and Jones $1.25 million on that date if they're still on the roster.

Burnett's case is complicated by the fact he underwent knee surgery in November and is still recovering.

Modell noted that in 1996, Turner's salary cap figure of $3.3 million was $900,000 more than the second highest-paid safety, Pittsburgh's Carnell Lake, who had a $2.4 million figure.

That gap goes up to $1.5 million in 1997 when Turner jumps to $3.9 million and Lake stays the same.

Turner's agent, Mike Sullivan, said the Ravens haven't called him about Turner's contract.

All the top Ravens contracts were negotiated in Cleveland by the former Mike Lombardi-Bill Belichick regime.

"We went wild in Cleveland and I don't say that critically because I approved the contracts. We're more careful now. We have more discipline. You can't buy a championship. You have to draft and develop players," Modell said.

Except for the Ogden deal that included a $6.8 million signing bonus, the Ravens showed more restraint last year. They were 24th in team spending in the league with a $42.8 million payroll, only slightly more than the Green Bay Packers, who won the Super Bowl with a $41.5 million payroll.

As the Packers showed, teams can win without spending big money.

The New York Jets, in contrast, went on a spending spree for free agents, including quarterback Neil O'Donnell, and went 1-15 with a $57.2 million payroll that was second in the league.

The New York Giants were tops at $60.4 million, but that was slightly misleading because they locked up a few of their veterans with long-term deals at the end of the season.

Payrolls are higher than salary cap figures because they include signing bonuses.

Modell also said he learned a lesson from the $17.2 million contract he gave Rison in 1994.

"I'm not going to go crazy in free agency," Modell said. "I'd rather have three hungry guys at $1 million than one for $3 million. We need more than one person to help us."

The Ravens will get relief next year when the salary cap is expected to take a big jump because the new TV contracts will be negotiated.

But they'll still face a tight squeeze this year. Not only will the cap take only a small jump, but they're being charged $5.3 million for pro-rated shares of signing bonuses for players not on the team.

Besides Rison's $3 million, they're being charged $1.3 million for Pepper Johnson, $750,000 for Leroy Hoard and $175,000 for Don Griffin.

One Ravens relative bargain for a quarterback is the $2.1 million cap figure the team has for Vinny Testaverde although his numbers jump to $5.6 million in 1998 and $6.6 million in 1999.

Troy Aikman of Dallas had the league's highest salary cap figure in 1996 -- $5.37 million.

Top 10 salaries

0$ NFL Salary cap numbers for 1996:

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