Eagles lure Everitt away from Ravens Free-agent center to sign 5-year deal worth $11.5 million

'There was no downside'

Stunned Ravens denied chance to improve bid

March 06, 1997|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Steve Everitt insists that his decision to leave the Ravens for the Philadelphia Eagles is about much more than money.

The chance to play for a proven playoff team under coach Ray Rhodes, not to mention the opportunity to reach his first Pro Bowl quickly because the NFC has no dominant center, weighed heavily on Everitt's mind before he chose Philadelphia.

The Eagles will announce today that they have signed Everitt to a five-year contract. The deal is worth $11.5 million, includes a $2 million signing bonus, and will allow Everitt to collect $4.1 million in the first year.

"I'd be an idiot if I said the money wasn't part of it, but it was the combination of everything they had to offer that sold me on Philly," Everitt said yesterday. "I think the team is definitely headed in the right direction.

"The deal isn't the crazy blockbuster I thought I was going to get at the beginning of free agency, but when I weighed everything out, there was no downside."

The news left Ravens officials in stunned disappointment. As of Monday, the Ravens were privately confident of re-signing the center the franchise had drafted in 1993.

That was before the Eagles, namely Rhodes and team vice president Joe Banner, called Everitt's agent, John Macik, and offered to fly to West Palm Beach, Fla., to hammer out a deal Tuesday. Everitt had made the Eagles his first free-agent stop. But after visiting the Jets last weekend, he thought the Ravens and New York were the only serious bidders.

But Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel who had kept in constant touch with Macik, sensed the Ravens were in trouble when he heard about Rhodes' visit.

Indeed, over a seven-hour negotiation session at the Palm Beach Hilton, the Eagles sweetened their original package -- which included a $600,000 bonus -- enough to lure Everitt away from the Ravens, who never got a chance to improve their five-year, $10 million offer.

Newsome was concerned about Rhodes even before the Ravens allowed Everitt, 26, to shop. While the two were scouting six weeks ago at the East-West Shrine Classic in Palo Alto, Calif., they had dinner.

"Ray told me, 'Ozzie, I like your center. If he gets to the free-agent market, I'm going to be one of your biggest competitors,' " Newsome said. "I applaud Ray Rhodes and the Eagles for making the type of play they made. Am I surprised by the way it happened in the end? You could say that. I was always optimistic."

Team executive vice president David Modell, whose negotiations with Macik got off to a rocky start in January before Modell passed the baton to Newsome, was frustrated that the Ravens never got another crack at Everitt once Rhodes went to Florida.

"In this NFL world, there is always a chance you're going to lose players because others are willing to pay them more, but we don't feel we got a good, clean shot at a player we wanted," Modell said. "We did not lose this player for not trying. We made bona fide offers, we tried to negotiate. I don't know what we could have done to have affected the outcome differently."

The 6-foot-5, 190-pound Everitt said the seeds of his decision were sown in 1995, when he began to ask the Cleveland Browns to extend the three-year, $2 million contract he signed as a first-round pick out of Michigan. Everitt could have held out for more money, but he was determined to report to his first training camp on time. He played out his original contract.

Instead of giving Everitt -- who missed just three starts in three seasons -- a long-term deal, the Ravens extended him a qualifying offer of $785,000 last year and retained him as a restricted free agent. And after tagging him as a transition player, one who would have commanded a $2.8 million salary for 1997 -- the average salary of the NFL's 10 highest-paid offensive linemen -- the Ravens gambled by withdrawing the transition label and letting Everitt shop for the best deal.

"As much as I didn't want it to come into play, I still have a bad taste in my mouth over what's happened over the last two years," Everitt said. "They told me I was in their long-term plans, but we kept getting put off. Meanwhile, I see every offensive lineman next to me getting [deals] redone. I can only believe TTC these people for so long, and I don't mean Ozzie and the coaches.

"It's nice to talk about how much you want a guy and how much he means to your team. It's another thing to back it up with a contract."

Said Modell: "When we signed Steven, I told him to do what's expected of you, grow, become great, and you'll be taken care of. I meant what I said. The last time I checked, $10 million is not such a bad thing."

The loss of Everitt leaves the Ravens without two starters from last year's offensive line, the bright spot of a 4-12 team. Left tackle Tony Jones was traded to the Denver Broncos for a second-round pick in next month's draft.

Everitt's place probably will be taken by veteran Wally Williams, who started nine games at center last year, after Everitt tore a pectoral muscle that caused him to miss most of season's second half.

Yesterday, the Ravens talked with two free-agent offensive linemen in St. Louis Rams guard Leo Goeas and Kansas City Chiefs tackle Ricky Siglar.

"Now that we've lost Steve, we've got to move on," Newsome said. "We're not as strong [on the line] as we were going into training camp last year. Is our offensive line a weakness? I wouldn't say that."

Pub Date: 3/06/97

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