Williams likely to remain a Raven Ruling upholds club's designation of center as franchise player

March 12, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

The Ravens have yet to re-sign center Wally Williams to a long-term contract, but at least they know they will not be competing with a potential list of bidders for Williams on the open, free-agent market.

Special master Jack H. Friedenthal ended a dispute regarding Williams' status yesterday by upholding the Ravens' franchise player designation of him.

The ruling virtually assures that Williams will remain a Raven, at least for the 1998 season. As a franchise player, Williams must be paid $3.052 million, the average salary of the NFL's five, highest-paid offensive linemen, in 1998. The franchise tag gives the Ravens the right of first refusal. If another team makes Williams an offer, which is unlikely, the Ravens can match it or let him go and receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.

Then again, the Ravens could nullify those conditions by signing Williams, a sixth-year player, to a long-term deal. Besides the fact that he stands to collect a signing bonus in the $2-million range with a new contract -- something not included in the Ravens' one-year qualifying offer -- Williams said he would rather solidify his future here.

"I always wanted to be here anyway. I'm happy about [the ruling], as long as we can get a long-term contract instead of just playing here for one year," Williams said. "Hopefully, that [a new deal] will come a lot sooner than later."

The Ravens and Williams waited nine anxious days for Friedenthal's decision. For the organization, the worst-case scenario had Friedenthal declaring Williams an unrestricted free agent.

"On the football end, the team morale end, as well as the fact that [Williams] is one of our best guys in the community, we're relieved," Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne said. "He's got the whole package."

The dispute began when the NFL Players Association accused the Ravens of declaring Williams a franchise player too late on Feb. 12. The players union argued that the Ravens ignored a league-wide memo stating all such designations had to be reported by 4 p.m. The league's management council and the Ravens countered that, since no such deadline exists in the collective bargaining agreement, they only had to report their franchise designation by midnight of Feb. 13, the first day of free agency. The Ravens notified the league about Williams early on the evening of Feb. 12.

"The Ravens' designation of Wally Williams was timely, effective and valid," said Ralph Tyler, a Baltimore attorney who argued the case before Friedenthal on behalf of the Ravens last week in Washington.

"We had hoped we could win and make Wally a free agent, but we have to live with what has been decided," said Richard Berthelsen, the NFLPA's general counsel. "For the time being, Baltimore has a franchise player."

Berthelsen said the players union would not appeal Friedenthal's ruling.

"I told Wally I thought [the protest] was a long shot, but that we could hold out for the possibility that he could be a free agent," said Tom Condon, Williams' agent.

Before their negotiations broke off last month, the Ravens and Condon were believed to be nearing agreement on a contract similar to the one former Ravens center Steve Everitt signed with Philadelphia last year. Everitt took a five-year deal worth $11.5 million.

The two sides have not negotiated since the Ravens slapped a franchise tag on Williams.

"That's surprising," Condon said. "Unless [the Ravens] have no intention of doing one [a new contract] or they plan on just going through one season with Wally, it doesn't make sense."

Ravens chief financial officer Pat Moriarty said the organization has not altered its goal of securing Williams to a long-term deal.

"I feel confident that we can continue dialogue and get something done," Moriarty said. "We're close [to a deal] in some aspects, and we're a ways apart in other aspects. We're always optimistic that we'll get this done sooner than later. Our goal is to come to a long-term arrangement with Wally. We want to come to terms before the start of training camp."

Pub Date: 3/12/98

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