Receiver, defensive line top Ravens' wish list

Free-agent linebacker, safety also priorities

May 30, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

When the NFL free-agent market reopens Tuesday morning, the Ravens will be shopping for a veteran wide receiver or a defensive tackle as possible starters, and maybe a veteran linebacker or safety who can fill out the special teams.

Teams get salary-cap breaks by waiting until June 1 to release players, but the Ravens are not expected to cut any notable players, as they did last year in terminating the remainder of quarterback Vinny Testaverde's multi-year contract.

But Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, said the team is a "million plus" under the salary cap and in good shape to make some moves if certain players become available.

It's no secret that the Ravens' receivers have had problems holding onto passes, even though second-year wide receiver Patrick Johnson has made some improvements in the past couple weeks.

But while new coach Brian Billick has publicly supported his receivers, he would like to have another proven player.

Floyd Turner, Qadry Ismail and James Roe aren't exactly household names, and Ismail hasn't caught a pass during the regular season since 1996. Only receiver Jermaine Lewis could make an opponent alter some defensive strategy.

Defensively, the Ravens have enough depth at tackle but would like to have a veteran player challenge former University of Maryland standout Larry Webster for a starting job and push some of the younger players, such as second-year tackles Martin Chase and Lional Dalton.

The market doesn't seem as if it will be filled with tackles, but receivers such as Vincent Brisby, Justin Armour, Webster Slaughter, Freddie Solomon and Billy Davis might be options.

There could be some surprises.

"I was just telling Art [owner Art Modell], David [president David Modell] and Brian that every year you can predict at least two surprises," said Newsome. "That's why we spend time poring over rosters, salary-cap situations, and even reading what beat writers write to get a jump on what may happen.

"If there is a player [who] becomes available, and we feel he can impact our team this year, then we will aggressively pursue [him]," said Newsome. "There is potential there for us to sign a receiver in early June."

The Ravens' roster stands at 84 players, including their four drafted rookies.

Only two players, running back Priest Holmes and cornerback DeRon Jenkins, have not signed their tendered offers, but the team probably won't have problems getting them into training camp on time.

Newsome said the Ravens can have 83 players at training camp, but that Billick probably will have a smaller roster. His camp will notbe as strenuous or as physical as former coach Ted Marchibroda's.

"Brian is of that Minnesota mind-set that if you don't have a chance to make the squad, then you just don't bring people in just for the sake of having bodies," said Newsome.

The Ravens have begun working on signing their four draftees. But the team is struggling to get the players under the $1.962 million rookie-cap pool allotted by the league.

The rookies, slotted in the same position last year and given the annual salary increases in 1999, will make more money than the Ravens have been allowed.

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