As the NFL free-agent market opens today, the Ravens have a new area to concentrate on other than defense after developments this week with offensive linemen Tony Jones, Steve Everitt and Herman Arvie.
The Ravens expect to complete a trade of Jones, the team's starting left tackle, to the Denver Broncos possibly by today, and they have cut Arvie, who was the team's top reserve tackle, because of health reasons. Everitt is still in the Ravens' plans, but they removed the fourth-year center's transition-player status Wednesday, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent.
The Ravens' foremost problem is to find help for the worst defense in the league last season, but they also will take a hard look at offensive linemen as starters and reserves.
"We've targeted some players going into the market," said Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel. "We'll keep our options open and I guess we'll get between four to 10 players. We'll be active."
The Ravens are pretty tight-lipped about their prospects. But the Ravens allowed 248.1 passing and 120 rushing yards per game last season. They had only 30 sacks and team owner Art Modell has promised to cut a third of the team, most from the defense.
With Arvie and Jones out of the picture, and big-money players Everitt and wide receiver Michael Jackson unrestricted free agents, the Ravens have a few million dollars to spend.
"It's an average to above-average free-agent market," said Newsome, evaluating the talent. "But with the holes we have to fill, especially on defense, one player is not going to make a significant impact for us. We're looking at the best way to get a combination of solid players instead of a blockbuster."
The Ravens would prefer a pass rusher, especially at outside linebacker. This year's free-agent market is loaded at that position and should include the Pittsburgh Steelers' Chad Brown, Dallas Cowboys' Darrin Smith, Green Bay Packers' Wayne Simmons and the Houston Oilers' Micheal Barrow.
The Ravens also like Brown because he was coached in Pittsburgh by Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis.
The Ravens also have a need for defensive linemen, especially a run stopper. Green Bay's Gilbert Brown is the top free-agent defensive tackle but is out of the Ravens' salary range. The Indianapolis Colts' Tony Siragusa may not be and he formerly played under coach Ted Marchibroda.
The Ravens may also take a serious run at the San Diego Chargers' Reuben Davis and Denver's Mike Lodish. Also, Lewis could play a part in the Ravens talking to Pittsburgh defensive end Ray Seals, who missed the 1996 season with a rotator cuff injury. The Steelers also have two free-agent cornerbacks in Deon Figures and Willie Williams, another problem area for the Ravens.
Offensively, the Ravens have to prepare for a worst-case scenario, and that has Everitt leaving. If that happens, then Wally Williams moves from guard to start at center with Jeff Blackshear starting at one guard and Orlando Brown at his familiar right tackle spot.
That in turn leaves the Ravens with only reserve tackle/guard Sale Isaia and center Quentin Neujahr, who both played mostly on special teams last season.
NTC The Chicago Bears' Jerry Fontenot and Green Bay's Frank Winters are the top two centers, but the Ravens may look for versatile performers who can play both center and guard like the Philadelphia Eagles' Raleigh McKenzie or the New York Giants' Adam Schreiber. The top-rated guard is San Francisco's Chris ++ Dalman.
The Ravens were happy with their free-agent signings a year ago: punter Greg Montgomery, running back Bam Morris, defensive lineman James Jones and receiver Floyd Turner.
"I don't think we'll go after anyone in a hurry," said Newsome. "We'll wait and see what happens first, but we'll be competitive. We will make some moves."
NOTE: The Broncos are expected to announce today that Jones signed a two-year extension to the two years he had remaining on the contract he had with the Ravens. His total package will be a four-year deal worth $11 million, including a $3 million signing bonus.
NFL teams are warily approaching the free-agency signing period that opens today. Teams are preaching fiscal responsibility, but Giants general manager George Young says teams get illogical, "Sports is not ....a logical business." (Page 4D)
Staying or going?
The Ravens can retain their restricted free agents by matching ++ offers from other teams. Unrestricted free agents are able to negotiate and sign with any team.
Restricted free agents: CB Donny Brady, CB Dorian Brew, OL Sale Isaia, C Quentin Neujahr, QB Scott Otis.
Unrestricted free agents: WR Michael Jackson, C Steve Everitt, QB Jon Stark, S Vashone Adams, LB Sedric Clark, CB Corey Dowden, DL Elliott Fortune, LB Dexter Daniels, DL Rick Lyle, TE Frank Hartley, G Jeff Blackshear, LB Mike Croel, LB Mike Caldwell, LB Keith Goganious, LB Jerrol Williams, LB Eddie Sutter, TE Eric Green, S Stevon Moore, FB Carwell Gardner, WR Floyd Turner, DE Anthony Pleasant.
Pub Date: 2/14/97