Holding line, not linemen, is right move

February 13, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

"No more of this Andre Rison B.S."

Those are the words of Art Modell, and they're intended for Steve Everitt and any other Raven who expects the team to spend as freely as it did in Cleveland.

Those days are over, and the Ravens will be better for it.

The problem is, their newfound fiscal restraint might cost them Everitt, a quality center who wants to be paid like a left tackle.

It also could cost them wide receiver Michael Jackson, but team officials plan to renegotiate his contract, and Modell is confident of re-signing him.

The prospect of losing either player from such a productive offense is unnerving, but such is life in the National Finance League.

Everitt, 26, isn't worth $3 million, but that's what he and his agent want, so off to the open market they go.

The Ravens withdrew Everitt's transition player designation yesterday, which means they're no longer obligated to make him a one-year offer of $2.8 million -- the average salary of the NFL's top 10 offensive linemen.

It also means that Everitt is an unrestricted free agent, and Ravens vice president David Modell believes he might command close to $2.4 million -- the average salary of four-time Pro Bowl center Mark Stepnoski.

The Ravens don't want to pay that much, either.

So, are they botching this?

Not necessarily.

It's time this franchise drew the line.

Less than a year ago, Art Modell talked about being an "All-Pro" spender -- a curious boast, considering the NFL has a salary cap.

These days, Modell is repenting for his past sins -- a predictable reversal, considering his cap difficulties and reported cash-flow problems.

Here's the born-again Art:

"We don't want to lose Everitt. At the same time, there's a value on every player we have. We've got to maintain a level of even-handedness with our players."

Or, as David Modell put it, "We're trying to learn from our mistakes."

Hence, their reluctance to overpay Everitt, who earned $785,000 last season.

Think about it: Everitt has never been to the Pro Bowl. He missed eight of the final nine games last season. And the Ravens can again use Wally Williams at center with little drop-off.

Average rushing yards per game with Everitt last season: 109.

Average rushing yards per game without him: 109.

Heck, in the final seven games, Bam Morris rushed for more yards than every NFL running back but Barry Sanders.

So, it's not as if Everitt is irreplaceable.

Still, the Ravens want to keep him, and for good reason. The offensive line is their one strength, and they're on the verge of trading left tackle Tony Jones to Denver.

Losing Everitt and Jones?

That would be a significant blow.

Jonathan Ogden will move from left guard to replace Jones, but the Ravens could wind up with a dramatically revamped line next season.

They'll also be without Herman Arvie, whom they released yesterday. And they need to re-sign free agent Jeff Blackshear, whose agent, fortunately, is Ted Marchibroda Jr.

Whatever, the quality and depth might not be the same.

This was the line that helped Vinny Testaverde make his first Pro Bowl, sprung the ancient Earnest Byner for a 149-yard game against New Orleans and provided enough pass protection for Jackson and Derrick Alexander to become star receivers.

This was the line that Art Modell called the best in franchise history.

Why compromise?

"It's a very valid question," David Modell said.

The Ravens are confident in their ability to develop linemen -- Art Modell called Kirk Ferentz the game's best offensive line coach.

Still, talent is talent.

"Are we better off with Steven?" David Modell asked. "Yes."

But are they better off with Everitt at $3 million a year?

The answer is no.

"We're prepared to pay Steve Everitt roughly, maybe even a little more than Dermontti Dawson is getting from the Pittsburgh Steelers," Art Modell said.

Dawson makes an average of $2 million, and he's a five-time Pro Bowl player, perhaps the best center in the game.

What exactly is Everitt thinking?

He was unavailable for comment.

It's no secret he was upset to leave Cleveland, but he quickly became a fan favorite in Baltimore. He's on the radio. He's on TV. He could become a latter-day Art Donovan.

If the Ravens are willing to pay $2 million and Everitt's market value is $2.4 million, then it shouldn't be much of a problem -- assuming he wants to stay.

The important thing is, the Ravens are trying to manage the cap more carefully while negotiating with their players competitively.

"No more of this Andre Rison B.S."

Let it be their rallying cry.

Pub Date: 2/13/97

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