Williams threatens two-week holdout Modell sets midseason for negotiating start

no deal yet on Starks

July 19, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

While the Ravens and the agent for their top draft pick, cornerback Duane Starks, continue efforts to reach agreement on a contract that will get Starks into training camp on time, the team most likely will not see center Wally Williams at Western Maryland College when veterans report Thursday.

Williams said yesterday that he will sit out for about two weeks unless the team and his agent, Tom Condon, begin talks before camp about a long-term contract.

Judging by team owner Art Modell's comments, Williams is headed for a holdout. Modell said the Ravens have decided to pursue contract extension talks with Williams in midseason, after they have gauged the quality of his play.

Williams scoffed at that idea, saying he would rather play out the 1998 season and possibly test the market as an unrestricted free agent.

"I'm not going to negotiate during the middle of the season," Williams said. "Once the season starts, my focus is helping this team win games. I'm not asking [the Ravens] to do anything outside of what they said they were going to do. They said I was a top priority when last season ended. It's been six months, and the deal hasn't been done."

Five months ago, the Ravens essentially took Williams off the market by designating him as Williams their franchise player. That requires the team to pay Williams a one-year salary of $3.06 million -- the average salary of the league's five highest-paid offensive linemen. Williams must sign the tender before reporting to camp.

"Two-a-days [practices] are not in my game plan, as of today," said Williams, who hinted that his holdout would last until around the preseason opener against the Chicago Bears on Aug. 8. "I want a long-term deal and I want to be in Baltimore for a long time. Unless we're moving in that direction, I'm not coming [to camp on time]."

Modell said the organization wants to see how well Williams performs, one year after he came back impressively from an Achilles' tendon rupture. Modell also said that Williams' weight, about 315 pounds, remains a concern.

"I authorized Ozzie [Newsome, vice president of player personnel] to tell Wally and his agent if Wally is doing well, we'll enter into negotiations at midseason," Modell said. "I'm concerned about the Achilles' and I want his weight down.

"Wally is a hell of a player. I want him here. And he'll do very well this year [financially]. I'm proud of what we offered him."

After suffering his injury 15 months ago, Williams, who made $900,000 last season, made it back to the playing field in five months. He started the final 10 games, eight at center.

"Most people who tear an Achilles' need a year of rehab. Wally made it back faster than anyone I've ever seen," Condon said. "Wally's deal should have been done a long time ago."

Williams, a five-year veteran, said: "They wanted me to come back as quickly as I could, and I did that. I don't see any reason why I have to prove that I can play in this league again."

As for Starks, his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, negotiated for several hours yesterday with Pat Moriarty, the Ravens' chief financial officer. The two sides have yet to agree on the length of the contract or a signing bonus, which could end up in the $4.5 million range.

Rosenhaus said there is a "50-50 chance" that the deal will be struck by Tuesday, which could mean a brief holdout.

"I want Duane there on time, and so does Duane. I'm no more or less optimistic than I was when I got started [in negotiations]," Rosenhaus said. "Remember, only nine guys have signed out of 30 first-round picks."

Modell said, "I think [Starks] will be here by Tuesday or the next day. Drew is not known for holding guys out."

NOTE: The Ravens have worked out and are interested in possibly signing Ray Crittenden, who had previous stints with San Diego, Carolina and New England, as a third wide receiver. The club also still has interest in former Ravens receiver Floyd Turner, who didn't play in 1997. If either player is signed, he would challenge James Roe for the third-receiver spot.

Sign of the times

The Ravens' Duane Starks, selected No. 10, isn't alone as an unsigned high draft choice, as only five of the NFL's top 15 selections have come to terms:

6. DE Grant Wistrom, St. Louis: Six years, $12.75 million,

including $6 million signing bonus.

8. DE Greg Ellis, Dallas: Six years, $11.5 million, including $5.4 million signing bonus.

9. RB Fred Taylor, Jacksonville: Six years, $10.7 million, including $5 million signing bonus.

11. OT Tra Thomas, Philadelphia: Five years, $8.2 million, including $3.4 million signing bonus.

12. LB Keith Brooking, Atlanta: Six years, $9.1 million, including $3.8 million signing bonus.

Pub Date: 7/19/98

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