Ravens punt 10-year veteran Montgomery moves on, Richardson gets call as 53-man roster set

Ofodile cut a surprise

Dalton, Fitzpatrick winners as free agents

August 31, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Five months ago, the Ravens promised to provide 10-year veteran punter Greg Montgomery with competition when they signed Kyle Richardson. Yesterday, the Ravens declared Richardson the winner by waiving Montgomery, as the team finalized its 53-man roster.

The Ravens waived six other players to reach the mandatory roster limit. The most surprising loss was second-year tight end A. J. Ofodile, who concluded an outstanding preseason by leading the team with 12 receptions for 137 yards and a touchdown.

In addition to Ofodile, the Ravens bid farewell to linebacker Sylvester Wright, offensive lineman Alex Bernstein, defensive tackle Chartric Darby, defensive end Chris Ward and veteran safety Rondell Jones, whose contract was terminated after he and the team reached an injury settlement. They had tried earlier in the day to trade Ward, a seventh-round draft pick in 1997.

The Ravens also placed rookie offensive tackle Sammy Williams on injured reserve. Williams, a sixth-round draft pick, sprained his right ankle and knee in Friday night's preseason finale, a 14-6 victory over the New York Giants.

Yesterday's winners were defensive linemen Lional Dalton, Larry Fitzpatrick and Mike Frederick. Dalton and Fitzpatrick became the only rookie free agents to survive the final cut. Frederick, a fourth-year backup, sealed his tenuous place on the roster with a great showing against the Giants, in which he recorded three tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

By taking Richardson over Montgomery -- they had engaged in one of the preseason's more interesting battles -- the Ravens went with a younger, less expensive player who punted impressively while going through his first NFL training camp. Richardson, 25, who played collegiately at Arkansas State, was released twice by the Miami Dolphins and once by the Seattle Seahawks last season.

Montgomery, a Pro Bowl punter in 1993 and 1994 who signed a five-year, $2.775 million contract with Baltimore in 1996 after taking a year off, lost the confidence of the Ravens after a subpar, 1997 season. He was scheduled to make $500,000 in salary this year. The Ravens will save about $400,000 in salary cap funds by keeping Richardson, who signed a two-year deal here and will make about $206,000 in 1998.

The Ravens had strongly considered cutting Montgomery during the off-season.

"We just felt Kyle has faced every challenge and met every one. Money was not a factor," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel.

"We've been charting both of these guys since June. It was real close. We feel like Kyle gives us the best chance to win. He fits into the way we cover. He's more of a hang-time guy. We gave up a lot of return yards [in 1997]. We should be able to get back some of those yards."

"[The Ravens] always said this was a battle that was going down to the last punt, and Kyle handled every punt just fine," said Steve Weinberg, Richardson's agent. "They gave him every chance to screw up, and Kyle didn't."

The decision to waive Ofodile was the day's toughest. He turned into one of the preseason's better stories, but the questionable health of veteran tight end Brian Kinchen caused his downfall.

Kinchen, who broke his thumb early in training camp and had his first snaps of the preseason against the Giants, is the team's No. 1 snapper on punts, extra points and field goals. His injury caused the Ravens to sign veteran tight end-long snapper Harper Le Bel during training camp.

The Ravens won't know until this week if Kinchen can snap in Sunday's season opener against Pittsburgh. In addition, Le Bel and Richardson -- who becomes the No. 1 holder -- have worked extensively with kicker Matt Stover, and the Ravens already had decided to keep six receivers instead of five. Thus, Le Bel had to stay and Ofodile had to go.

"That was probably the toughest decision," Newsome said. "When you consider that Kinchen has not snapped this year and may not be able to snap going into the season, there's the importance of Harper.

"I told A. J. he'll probably get claimed [off waivers]. If he's not claimed, there may be a time when he could come back to this team. Right now, we've got to get set to beat Pittsburgh."

The emergence of Dalton and Fitzpatrick was another pleasant surprise for the team. Dalton, out of Eastern Michigan, played poorly as a senior, but attracted the Ravens with several fine, postseason workouts. Dalton came to Baltimore and collected a signing bonus of $500, then consistently made plays throughout the preseason.

"The Eagles offered me $5,000, but I felt I had a better chance to make the team here," said Dalton, who added he has cut his weight to 299 pounds, down from 320 earlier this summer. "A lot of [rookie] free agents were scared, but I was just practicing hard every day and waiting for my chance. I've got some improving to do."

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