The waiting game is getting to Wally Williams, not to mention the Ravens.
A week has passed since special master Jack Friedenthal heard arguments from the NFL Management Council and the league's players union regarding the free-agent status of Williams, the sixth-year center whom the Ravens have designated as their franchise player.
The NFL Players Association maintains that when the Ravens notified the league to slap a franchise tag on Williams on Feb. 12, they missed a 4 p.m. deadline. The Ravens and the league's management council have countered that the league gave the Ravens additional time that day to negotiate a new contract with Williams' agent, Tom Condon.
They also argue the collective bargaining agreement does not specify a deadline to designate such free agents on the day before actual free agency begins.
Ravens officials hope their argument sticks, although they are bracing themselves for more unpleasant news. In the most favorable outcome for the team, Friedenthal would rule Williams shall remain a franchise player, meaning he would be guaranteed a $3.052 million salary in 1998, or the average salary of the NFL's five highest-paid linemen.
As a franchise player, Williams could entertain offers from other teams, although the Ravens hold the best cards with which to respond. They could match any offer or let Williams go in return for two first-round draft choices. Most likely, he would sign a long-term contract with Baltimore.
Friedenthal could rule in two other ways. He could declare Williams a transition player -- meaning he must make the average salary of the 10 highest-paid offensive linemen in 1998 -- or he could designate Williams an unrestricted free agent.
The Ravens fear that, should Williams become an unrestricted free agent, they could lose a prized lineman in a bidding war. Philadelphia and Jacksonville (which already has signed former Ravens backup center Quentin Neujahr to a three-year, $3.8 million contract) are two teams that could make a serious run at Williams on the open market.
"The fate of our offensive line rests in [Friedenthal's] hands," said Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne.
Losing Williams would be a huge blow to the Ravens' offensive front. The team envisions him as the long-term replacement for Steve Everitt, whom the team lost through free agency a year ago to Philadelphia, where Williams now would fit as a guard. The Ravens also need a replacement for recently released left guard Leo Goeas.
"We put the franchise tag on Wally because we want the guy. We feel good about our case. We're very hopeful," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel. "One way or another, we'll have to address the [Friedenthal] decision as an organization."
As for Williams, who reiterated he wants to remain in Baltimore, the process has become tiresome.
"It's been a hassle ever since the franchise tag was put on me," said Williams, who would not collect a signing bonus if he played for the one-year tender price. "I can't say that I'm upset, because I can't see getting upset about making $3 million in one year. But I'm limited in the things I can do, and that can be annoying.
"I don't want to go anywhere, but my goal is to get a long-term contract, here or anywhere. I want stability. I just want a situation where I can worry about playing football again. Whatever happens, let it happen, so we can move on to bigger and better things."
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said a decision on Williams' status should be announced this week.
Dawkins a possibility
The Ravens continue to search for more depth at wide receiver on the free-agent market. They have begun talking to the agent for Indianapolis receiver Sean Dawkins.
"I'm looking for a three- or four-year deal, but I'm open to anything. Sean is not going back to Indy," said Angelo Wright, Dawkins' agent.
Dawkins, 6 feet 4, 215 pounds, could find a comfortable home in Baltimore. A five-year veteran who was drafted in the first round out of California by the Colts in 1993, he has teamed extensively with quarterback Jim Harbaugh, whom the Ravens acquired through a trade with the Colts last month.
Dawkins has caught 251 passes for 3,511 yards and 12 touchdowns. Last year, he finished second in receptions (68) and yardage (804) with the Colts. He made $507,000 in 1997.
Newsome said the Ravens are also still interested in St. Louis' Torrence Small, although Small's agent differed with that assessment.
"We wrote [the Ravens] off. They're not even on my list," said Richard DeLuca, Small's agent, who said he is talking with the Colts and the Chicago Bears.
Wally Williams and Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown were in New York yesterday, answering questions from officials in the league commissioner's office regarding possible tampering by the New York Jets.
The Ravens complained last year that, during the week leading up to their Nov. 2 game against the Jets, New York assistant coach Bill Belichick broke a tampering rule by talking with Brown and Williams.
Belichick coached both players in Cleveland before the Browns moved to Baltimore two years ago.
Pub Date: 3/10/98