Starks could be early bird Ravens may need to sweeten their offer, as with Ogden in '96

July 02, 1998|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Vito Stellino contributed to this article.

When the Ravens granted Jonathan Ogden voidable years in a lavish, seven-year rookie contract in 1996, it was a rare concession that sent tremors rippling through the NFL.

"We took all kind of flak when we did that voidable deal," said Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel. "Everybody thought it was ridiculous we did that. Now, they're all doing it."

Two years ago, the Ravens were willing to make major concessions to ensure the team's historic first draft pick would arrive in Baltimore on time.

Today, sweeteners like voidable years and escalator clauses are an accepted part of contract business.

Given the early run of first-round signings in 1998, they may even play a role in the Ravens' negotiations with cornerback Duane Starks, the 10th pick in the draft.

"Whether they will be part of Duane's contract will depend," Drew Rosenhaus, Starks' Miami-based agent, said yesterday. "I don't know that you expect them, but they have become very common."

Rosenhaus said he was in "the beginning stages" of negotiating Starks' contract. He declined to say whether he was seeking any such sweeteners, but admitted a preference.

"There's many ways to skin a cat," he said. "To me, the voidables are good. They help the team with the [salary] cap and they're productive for the player. These are all kind of designed to assist the club with the cap and reward a player who plays at a high level."

They also could be the wave of the future. The two players right behind Starks in the draft -- offensive tackle Tra Thomas at No. 11 and linebacker Keith Brooking at No. 12 -- have reached contract terms and both have sweeteners.

Thomas, drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, has an escalator clause in the final year of a five-year deal that would raise his salary to $2.5 million based on personal and team accomplishments.

Brooking, drafted by the Atlanta Falcons, has a voidable sixth year based on playing time.

When ninth pick Fred Taylor agreed to terms with the Jacksonville Jaguars yesterday, it left the Ravens in perfect position to get an early deal for Starks, according to the slotting system used by the NFL teams.

Taylor, a running back, will get a six-year, $10.704 million contract that includes a $5 million signing bonus and a lot of incentives. His deal does not include a voidable or an escalator clause.

Though the Ravens would prefer to give Starks a contract without voidables or escalators, Newsome did not rule out the possibility.

"We saved enough money in our cap slot to be able to sign Duane without having to use voidables or an option year or an escalator," Newsome said. "Now, we might end up using one [but] it won't be inhibiting [to negotiations]."

Ogden's contract set the standard for voidable deals. By playing 35 percent of the offensive snaps in 1996, he earned the right to void his seven-year contract after three years. To postpone the voiding one year, he would receive a bonus of $825,000. To postpone it two years, he would receive $1.325 million.

Terms of Ogden's original contract were renegotiated last Aug. 24. In exchange for lowering his base salary from $882,500 to $682,500 in 1997, he was given a 100 percent injury guarantee, a $250,000 advance last year and a $300,000 advance this year. Additionally, on March 15, he received a $200,000 roster bonus, making up for the salary cut.

Last season, when first-round pick Peter Boulware sought a similar voidable contract, the Ravens resisted. A long holdout ensued, and Boulware settled for an escalator clause in the final year of a six-year contract that averages $2.3 million a year.

Based on the number of Pro Bowls he makes, Boulware can increase his sixth-year earnings from $3.5 million to $5.3 million.

Even with the trend toward voidables and escalators, Newsome said he expects Starks to arrive on time for training camp.

"Drew is a deal-maker," Newsome said. "I feel confident Duane will be in, at least when the vets report, if not sooner."

Comparing rookie contracts

With the 11th and 12th picks in the draft already signed, the Ravens can begin serious negotiations with their No. 10 pick, cornerback Duane Starks. This is what offensive tackle Tra Thomas and linebacker Keith Brooking got just behind him.

................ Tra Thomas (No. 11) .... Keith Brooking (No. 12)

Length ............ 5 years ................ 6 years

Package ........... $8.2 million ........... $9.1265 million

Average per year .. $1.64 million .......... $1.52 million

Signing bonus ..... x-$3.4 million ......... $3.8 million

Extras ............ escalator in 5th year .. voidable 6th year

x -- Signing bonus grows to $3.65 million with $250,000 rookie roster bonus.

Pub Date: 7/02/98

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