Blame game hurts Ravens, rookie Starks

July 31, 1998|By John Eisenberg

Peyton Manning is signed. Ryan Leaf and Charles Woodson && are signed. All the big names in this year's NFL rookie class are signed and in camp.

For that matter, 26 of the 30 first-round picks are signed and in camp.

Meanwhile, the Ravens, who could complicate a summer camp sing-along, are still haggling with a holdout.

They should be embarrassed that their top pick, Duane Starks, isn't signed by now.

Sure, Starks' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, deserves some of the blame.

But the Ravens deserve as much, if not more, for not finding some way, any way, to get the deal done.

They drafted Starks because they desperately need new life at left cornerback. They're going to lose games at that position if Starks holds out long enough to limit his usefulness this season.

Of course, this is the same team that failed to re-sign such free agents as Steve Everitt, Derrick Alexander and Antonio Langham, the same team that said signing Wally Williams was a priority. They're good at not getting deals done.

But the fact that this one isn't done by now is ridiculous.

Starks was the 10th player selected in the first round last April. The players drafted sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, 11th, 12th and 13th have signed, providing clear parameters for a deal for Starks. That's the way the system works.

"Once [those] in front of you and behind you sign, then your contract is pretty much set," said Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware, who held out of camp last year.

Rosenhaus is at fault for stubbornly insisting that he shouldn't be bound by other players' contracts, even though he and everyone knows that's exactly how the system works.

He also knows he can't extract much more from the Ravens than they're offering because they're bound by a rookie salary cap.

So why isn't Starks in camp? Because Rosenhaus is still debating such details as the size of the signing bonus, the length of the contract and the inclusion of a clause that would void the contract after several years. He is going for a measurable "win" of some kind, using a tough-guy act intended to sell himself to future clients.

That's fine. But Starks is getting hurt.

At this point, what little extra could be gained by holding out for a slightly bigger signing bonus or a voidable clause is being outweighed by the damage done to Starks' rookie season.

Training camp is a nuisance for veterans, but it's essential for rookies. And it's especially essential for rookie cornerbacks, who usually have enough problems without missing a slew of practices.

When Starks was drafted, Rosenhaus said: "I have a reputation for getting players into camp on time. I think it's important for both the player and the team."

Guess he changed his mind.

But again, let's not lay all this on Rosenhaus. That's the party lime coming out of the Ravens' training camp in Westminster, but it takes two sides to disagree.

Remember, it's the Ravens' job to get their players into camp, particularly when the parameters for the contract are set and not that much money is at stake.

Once the mega-contracts at the top of the draft are signed, the smaller contracts below them become almost a formality.

Leave it to the Ravens to fail to take advantage of the most favorable rookie signing season in years.

Their hard-line negotiating stance is admirable in light of the way owner Art Modell gave away money in Cleveland -- this way is better -- and it would even be understandable if the stability of their salary structure were at stake. But it isn't.

All that's at stake is Modell's one-year winning streak in negotiations with first-round picks. He got what he wanted at the end of Boulware's holdout last year. He'd obviously love to get what he wanted again, even if it's a small concession. Winning was fun.

Told you it was ridiculous Starks isn't signed.

This dumbest of stalemates is all about egos, perceptions and invisible victories that matter only to the parties involved.

It's certainly not about money, not with so little available for negotiation.

Nor is it about what's best for Starks or the Ravens' on-field product. At this point, both are losers. The Ravens are running around camp with only one starting cornerback. Starks is falling further behind every day.

Both sides deserve blame, but the Ravens deserve more. Instead of whining about Rosenhaus, they need to come up with a creative way to end the stalemate, a way to save face for both sides and get Starks in camp.

As of now, they're making a mess of a simple situation.

NFL signings

The Ravens' Duane Starks is one of four first-round picks who

haven't signed or agreed to terms:

No. .. .. Team .. .. Player, College

.. .. . Ari. .. ..A. Wadsworth, FSU

5. .. .. . Chi. .. ..Curtis Enis, Penn St.

10. . .. . Ravens ...Duane Starks, Miami

.. .. .Car. .. ..J. Peter, Nebraska

Pub Date: 7/31/98

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