Center gets all Ravens' attention Versatile Williams considered priority among 8 free agents

'I'd prefer to stay'

Alexander, Langham will be next in line

January 07, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff

The Ravens have begun preliminary talks in the negotiations with unrestricted free-agent center Wally Williams. It signals that one of the team's most versatile and athletic offensive lineman is the highest priority among the club's eight unrestricted free agents.

William's agent, Tom Condon, was not available for comment, but Ravens chief financial officer Pat Moriarty said he has been in contact with Condon and expects the negotiations to heat up after the team has its evaluation of players and coaches on Jan. 27.

Although Williams is a priority, team owner Art Modell also has said that re-signing receiver Derrick Alexander and cornerback Antonio Langham is important.

Meanwhile, plea-bargain meetings between the attorney for running back Bam Morris and the district attorney's office in Rockwall, Texas, may be under way.

Morris, the team's top running back, faces charges that he violated the agreement of his 1996 probation on a marijuana conviction. Morris was recently charged with assault on Nov. 16 for choking April Dawn Brittain, of Dallas, at a birthday party in Woodlawn, which is also in violation of his probation. Morris's trial is set for Tuesday in Rockwall.

Williams, 26, made about $1 million last season and is in the prime of his career. He missed the team's first six games in 1997 because of a torn Achilles' tendon, but he played well the remainder of the season. Williams started at center when he returned to the lineup, but eventually moved to left guard to strengthen a problem area.

Williams was one of the main reasons the team didn't reach an agreement with former center and teammate Steve Everitt on the five-year, $15 million deal Everitt demanded last season. All along, the coaching staff thought Williams was the better center, but he strengthened the line because he also played guard.

"From what I heard, I was a priority and that's fine with me," Williams said by telephone from Florida. "I'd like to get this over with as soon as possible. I'd prefer to stay with the Ravens. I'm familiar with the coaches, the players and the schemes. I came with this organization during the move from Cleveland and Baltimore has become my second home.

"I don't care if the contract is for four years or five years, just as long as it's fair. I know this is a business and they have to look out for their own interest, but I don't want to be put in a situation where I have worry about this. I just want to get it done and play."

Williams is considered one of the team's leaders on offense. If negotiations stall, the Ravens could name Williams their franchise player, which means the team would have to pay him the average salary of the top five offensive linemen in the league.

"It's too early to say if that will happen," Moriarty said.

Moriarty said the negotiations with Alexander and Langham probably will start up after the team meeting in late Janaury as well. "We'll sit down, and sort of come up with a game plan," he said.

The team also planned to discuss Morris' future at the meetings, but it already may have been decided. Wheeler said late Friday afternoon that seven days had been set aside for the trial, but a plea-bargain process could have begun as early as yesterday.

"Because of the holiday, both sides haven't been able to get together," Wheeler said. "Usually before a case, there is some kind of plea bargaining. I'm sure we'll get together before the trial, even though I don't know what will happen."

Neither Wheeler nor Ray Sumrow, the Rockwall district attorney, have returned telephone calls the past two days. Both are expected to return to their offices tomorrow. Morris also did not return telephone calls yesterday.

NOTES: Several members of the Ravens' organization have been looking over film of Jim Kelly's last season as quarterback with the Buffalo Bills and have been impressed with his performances, especially late in the season. The Ravens are expected to begin preliminary talks with Kelly soon about coming out of retirement and playing for his former offensive coordinator, Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda. Quarterback Vinny Testaverde and fullback Kenyon Cotton both underwent surgery Kernan Hospital yesterday. Testaverde had soft tissue on his toes removed while Cotton had shoulder surgery. Also, safety Rondell Jones is expected to have arthroscopic knee surgery tomorrow.

Pub Date: 1/07/98

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