Ravens Focus On Free Agent

With Draft Completed, Team Prepares Offer For Colts Dt Siragusa

`Last Piece In Puzzle'

How To Sign Selections Also Is Consideration

April 22, 1997|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

With the draft over, the Ravens began focusing again on the free-agent market yesterday and discussed plans on how to get their 12 new draft picks under the rookie salary cap of nearly $4 million designated by the league.

Ravens officials were preparing an offer for Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Tony Siragusa yesterday afternoon, and negotiations were expected to begin today.

Siragusa is believed to want a multi-year contract worth between $1.3 million and $1.5 million per season. Siragusa, 6 feet 3 and 320 pounds, has turned down a multi-year offer from the Colts averaging $1.2 million.

His agent, Gus Sunseri, said the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets also have interest in Siragusa.

"We're going to be very active in pursuing Siragusa and we're putting something together internally," Ravens owner Art Modell said. "We're going to be very aggressive in trying to sign him. We think he is the last piece in the puzzle that anchors the middle of our defense."

Siragusa missed five games last season after having arthroscopic knee surgery, but he is considered one of the best run stoppers in the league. If Siragusa signs, the Ravens believe he can occupy one or two offensive linemen, giving second-year middle linebacker Ray Lewis a chance to use his biggest asset of speed.

But Siragusa's leadership is just as important.

"He will provide stability to those young linebackers, to the entire defense," said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda, who coached Siragusa two years ago in Indianapolis. "He has a heart as big as his body."

If the Ravens sign Siragusa, they probably would be forced to lose two defensive linemen to make room under the league's $41.45 million salary cap. The Ravens are about $2.7 million under the cap.

The team will waive defensive tackle Dan Footman and his $1.3 million salary, but not until after June 1 when some of his salary would count against next year's cap.

The team probably will choose between reserve tackles Tim Goad and Larry Webster, the former University of Maryland star who was suspended all of last season because he violated the league's substance-abuse policy. Both are expected to make about $400,000 next season.

The Ravens are having cap problems because they are still paying partial salaries of almost $7 million to seven players who are no longer on the team.

"I anticipate some changes before the season starts, but the current players will make up the bulk of our roster," said vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome. "There won't be wholesale changes. When I say that, no more than five who are on the current roster."

Siragusa probably will be the last big-name free agent the Ravens try to sign. The club will continue to pursue San Francisco 49ers fullback Tommy Vardell, but because it drafted four linebackers and two safeties, the Ravens no longer have interest in linebacker Lewis Bush of the San Diego Chargers, linebacker Carlton Bailey (Woodlawn High) of the Carolina Panthers and safety Robert Blackmon of the Seattle Seahawks.

A team official said the Ravens would like to sign one veteran linebacker such as Mike Caldwell or Jerrol Williams, both of whom played for the team last year, but he would have to play for the minimum veteran contract.

The Ravens want a veteran to join the young linebacking crew the Ravens drafted over the weekend. Newsome said he didn't anticipate any problems signing the 12 new players under the rookie cap. The Ravens signed seven rookies last year with a pool of $3.3 million.

The league bases the pool money on previous drafts and the players' overall selections. Fortunately for the Ravens, four of their picks were in the seventh round, which means each player probably will sign for the rookie minimum of $131,000. Signing bonuses, for the Ravens, usually average about $10,000 for these players.

"We planned this out beforehand, and we were within two percentage points of our projections," Newsome said. "Like every year, we know we're going to have to release some veterans or ask them to restructure. Again, we don't expect many changes in the players we presently have under contract."

The Ravens recently restructured the contract of defensive tackle James Jones, saving $300,000 in cap funds. Modell also has said defensive end Rob Burnett, who is due to make $1.5 million in base salary this season, is a candidate for restructuring.

Newsome projects most of the 12 rookies will make the roster, which will put the pressure on at least two veteran reserves, outside linebacker Craig Powell and safety and special teams ace Bennie Thompson, to make the team.

Pub Date: 4/22/97

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