Ravens step up linemen pursuit

Team near agreement with Broncos' Swayne

C. Jones, Fauria visit

February 26, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

The Ravens intensified efforts to rebuild their offensive line with visits from New Orleans Saints tackle Clarence Jones and Seattle Seahawks tight end Christian Fauria yesterday, and the club was close to reaching a multi-year agreement with Denver Broncos right tackle Harry Swayne last night.

A league source said last night that the team also has interest in signing Tennessee Titans All-Pro center Mark Stepnoski, who was visiting his old Dallas Cowboys teammates yesterday.

An announcement on Swayne could come as early as this morning, and his acquisition would provide a big lift for an offensive line that has lost two starters, tackle Orlando Brown and center/guard Wally Williams, to free agency this off-season.

Terms were not available last night, but it is believed that Swayne would make at least an average of $3 million per season during the length of the contract.

"We're making significant progress," Swayne said last night. "We're not that far away from getting it done. It won't take a lot of effort to complete the deal. I'm looking forward to playing in Baltimore with this young offensive line."

The Ravens had a whirlwind day yesterday as the team made progress in talks with the Detroit Lions about quarterback Scott Mitchell, according to team president David Modell.

Despite the progress, coach Brian Billick reversed his stand of a week ago when he said he was interested in veteran quarterback Warren Moon only as a backup, now saying he might consider him for the starting job, replacing Jim Harbaugh.

But there is strong speculation that Billick has no serious interest in Moon as a starter and is trying to force the Lions to trade Mitchell to the Ravens before June 1, when they are expected to release him. Harbaugh might be involved in that trade.

According to Billick, Fauria took a tour of the complex yesterday morning and Jones came in last night. But the Ravens' attention was focused on Swayne, a 12-year veteran who has played on the Broncos' last two Super Bowl teams. Swayne, 34, made $950,000 in base salary last season.

Swayne, 6 feet 5 and 293 pounds, visited the Washington Redskins yesterday and had scheduled a trip to Carolina. But Swayne canceled the trip and was back at the Ravens' Owings Mills complex by late yesterday evening, according to a league source. Once the deal is complete, Swayne will replace Brown, who recently signed with the Cleveland Browns.

"I think it will be an easy move for me," said Swayne, who has played left tackle most of his career except the last two years in Denver. "Two years ago I started flip-flopping back and forth. That's when I got my feet wet. I know Billick's system, which is the 49ers' system, which Denver has diluted to the Broncos' system. My wife is from Atlanta and I'm from Philadelphia. We wanted to get back to the East Coast."

The addition of Swayne gives the team a slightly above-average offensive line because it can now start versatile James Atkins at left guard, and four of the five starting offensive line positions would be set with Jeff Blackshear at right guard and All-Pro Jonathan Ogden at left tackle.

Atkins started and played well in the final six games last season, three at left guard and three at left tackle. The Ravens' interest in Stepnoski means there might be some concern over second-year player Jeff Mitchell starting at center. Mitchell started 10 games at center and had what the Ravens' previous coaching staff described as an average season.

"I'm optimistic we can get the deal done," Billick said. "Harry Swayne brings maturity, a proven track record, athleticism and stability. He is someone for that young line to lean on. Everybody has a big-ticket signing. For us, it will be Harry Swayne if we can get it done. We're burning the midnight oil on this one. To get him would give us a front of Ogden, Jeff Mitchell, Blackshear, Atkins and Swayne. I'd do battle with that and feel good about it."

The Ravens are the only team known to have interest in Jones, who has played well the past two seasons for the Saints. Jones, 27, has been forced out of his starting position by Kyle Turley in New Orleans. Saints coach Mike Ditka would like the 6-6, 280-pound Jones back on the roster, but not at the $1.55 million he earned last season as a starter.

Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, said the team would actively pursue Jones, from the University of Maryland, as a backup despite the addition of Swayne.

Stepnoski, 33, is not as effective as he used to be, but he still is one of the quickest centers in the AFC as far as getting out and blocking linebackers. His acquisition would be an upgrade over last season.

Fauria, 27, started 15 games last season and had 37 catches for 377 yards. At 6-4 and 245 pounds, he is known as a tenacious blocker, but lack of speed doesn't allow him to stretch defenses. The Ravens also have interest in former New York Giants tight end Aaron Pierce and possibly New England Patriots tight end Lovett Purnell, who is a restricted free agent.

Sun staff writer Gary Lambrecht contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 2/26/99

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