Ravens keep dancing around draft decision Getting defenders still team's top priority

April 04, 1997|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Will Peter Boulware, the highest-rated pass rusher in this month's NFL draft, join the Ravens and fill their most glaring need? Or will the Ravens trade down from their No. 4 slot and soothe their ailing defense in other areas, say by adding a prized outside linebacker like Alabama's Dwayne Rudd or Virginia's James Farrior?

With the draft just two weeks from tomorrow, the Ravens are pondering these among many questions as they continue to reshape their 1997 roster.

Between now and draft day, the Ravens are aiming to improve their defense through the free-agent market. They are trying to finalize an agreement with safety Brock Marion, are talking to Pittsburgh linebacker Eric Ravotti, and are seeking to upgrade at the end position, where they have Rob Burnett -- who is rehabilitating the knee he injured last October -- under contract.

The Ravens, who are talking to Anthony Pleasant about re-signing, also are negotiating with Seattle right defensive end Michael McCrary, who completed his fourth season by emerging last fall as one of the league's better pass rushers.

McCrary, 6 feet 4, 260 pounds, was a seventh-round draft pick from Wake Forest who was strictly a part-time player until becoming a starter four games into last season and blossoming. He finished tied for second in the league last year with 13 1/2 sacks. He also had 76 tackles, and he recorded three sacks against Pro Bowl left tackle Tony Boselli in a game against Jacksonville. McCrary played for only $225,000 last year, barely above the league minimum salary for a fourth-year player.

"[McCrary] is a good player, one of many good players still out there on the market," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel. "One way or the other, we're going to sign a defensive end."

If so, will the Ravens then draft an end in the person of Boulware? They have made no secret about how much they like him, even though a league source said Boulware has an unspecified knee ailment.

Boulware, 6-4, 255, spent two days this week with the Ravens. On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis went to Tallahassee, Fla., and worked out Boulware -- at linebacker as well as end -- then returned to Baltimore with him. Boulware dined with Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis on Tuesday night, then took a physical on Wednesday, before heading to visit with the New York Jets. They own the first pick of the draft.

"The physical was good. If we sign a defensive end before the draft, that would have no effect on our draft," Newsome said. "We will be prepared to pick at No. 4, no matter what."

The Ravens also will be prepared to swing a trade with the right partner. They are talking to the Detroit Lions -- who hold the fifth pick -- about swapping first-round choices. Ravens owner Art Modell said the Ravens also would demand an additional pick from this year's draft, probably in the third or fourth round.

Based on the signings of last year's top five draft picks, the Ravens could save about $1 million in signing bonus money by dropping one spot in the first round.

"If the deal is right, we would not hesitate to trade down, provided we have filled certain needs prior to the draft," Modell said. "We will not take that first pick without first talking to Detroit. And that first pick might not be Boulware. It might be someone else with great credentials."

If the Ravens end up not getting Boulware, they might select either Rudd or Farrior, two of the highest-rated outside linebackers in the draft. As a junior last season, Rudd, 6-2, 244, earned Southeast Conference Player of the Year honors. Farrior, 6-1, 233, had 107 tackles and eight sacks with Virginia in 1996.

"They are both good players who could come right in and help this football team," Newsome said.

The weekend of April 19-20 promises to be a busy one for the Ravens, who own 12 draft picks, including four compensatory picks -- one in the sixth, three in the seventh -- because of player losses to free agency in 1996. The Ravens, who have four of the first 64 picks, hope to take advantage of their favorable position in the second, third and fourth rounds.

The Ravens have two second-round picks, the second by way of their Tony Jones trade with the Denver Broncos two months ago.

Although the Ravens are determined to upgrade their defense primarily through the draft, look for them to take a running back, tight end and an offensive lineman as well. Texas Tech tailback Byron Hanspard or Virginia's Tiki Barber could be headed for their backfield, and Kent tight end O. J. Santiago, 6-6, 267, could be taken in the middle rounds.

NOTE: The Ravens and the agent for Ravotti have exchanged contract proposals ranging from one to three years. Ravotti figures to decide by next week whether to remain with the Steelers or play for the Ravens.

Pub Date: 4/04/97

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