Ravens open up with 3 holdouts

Mulitalo reaches agreement in principle

July 29, 1999|By Mike Preston and Gary Lambrecht | Mike Preston and Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Despite three player holdouts, the remaining 81 players on the Ravens' roster reported to training camp at Western Maryland College yesterday and expressed optimism about the 1999 season under first-year coach Brian Billick.

Fourth-round draft picks Brandon Stokley, a Southwestern Louisiana wide receiver, and University of Arizona offensive tackle Edwin Mulitalo, as well as University of Virginia safety Anthony Poindexter, a seventh-round pick, did not report in the afternoon, but Mulitalo reached an agreement in principle last night on a three-year deal worth about $765,000.

All three players are expected to make the roster this season, but it's highly unlikely any would have a significant impact. The sticking issue is guaranteed money. With most of the Ravens' money having gone to University of Arizona cornerback Chris McAlister, their No. 1 draft pick, from the league-imposed rookie cap pool, the Ravens were hard-pressed to find room under the salary cap for guaranteed signing bonuses for the remaining three draft picks.

Other teams have experienced the same problem and offered four to five-year contracts that were voidable at three to get around the cap problems. But the Ravens no longer offer voidable contracts and have proposed guaranteed money in each of the three years of the contract offered to the players.

The Ravens have offered only $15,000 signing bonuses, at which the agents have balked but apparently are feeling better about accepting if the team is willing to increase the guaranteed money. Ed Cunningham, Mulitalo's agent, called the Ravens' deal "the worst in the history of the draft" earlier yesterday until the team guaranteed about $300,000, even if Mulitalo gets cut, according to a league source.

Cunningham pointed out that Denver running back Olandis Gary got a $232,000 signing bonus and he was taken two spots above Mulitalo. Green Bay punter Josh Bidwell received $225,000 four spots below Mulitalo, who is expected to practice today in the afternoon session.

"We're glad to get this done, and we feel he has the tools to be a solid player in this league," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel. However, Stokley's agent, Rick Smith, blasted the Ravens yesterday.

"I can't understand why there is so much reluctance to do whatever it takes to make this as fair as possible," said Smith. "If you're there for three years, you'll never see the guarantee; you will only see it if you get cut. Who wants to negotiate a contract hoping to get cut?

"Brandon Stokley wants to be there in the worst way. He has a future in Baltimore. It's the worst up-front money offered in any deal since 1993. Stokley is a steal in the fourth round. Even a market deal for him is like stealing the guy."

The Ravens will continue the negotiations with Stokley and Poindexter, as well as Pro Bowl defensive end Michael McCrary, through training camp. McCrary has a year left on his contract and wants an extension before the regular season starts or he will hit the free-agent market.

According to a league source, McCrary's agent has proposed a seven-year deal worth $7.2 million a season, including a $15 million signing bonus. Newsome declined to talk about the situation yesterday, saying only that the team would restart negotiations with Michael George, McCrary's agent, in about two weeks when George returned from vacation.

Negotiations weren't the topic of the first day at training camp. Players dread the 23 days of practice (41 practices overall), but they seem eager to work. The organization won only 16 games in three seasons under former coach Ted Marchibroda. As the Minnesota Vikings' offensive coordinator the past five years, Billick ran one of the best offenses in the NFL, and the fans as well as the players are waiting to see if Billick can bring a winner to Baltimore.

"This is little different start for me," said right offensive tackle Harry Swayne, who played for the defending champion Denver Broncos last year and signed with the Ravens as a free agent. "This is exciting to me. My job is to help get Baltimore in the playoffs. We're much better than some people expect. I've seen some of the preseason predictions, and we're not one of the favored teams. It will be nice, though, to see this all come together."

Training camp practices will be different from those in the past that lasted for more than two hours, twice a day. Billick plans to work the Ravens hard in the morning, then practice in shorts in the afternoon for about an hour. Swayne says it's similar to the way coach Mike Shanahan scheduled practices in Denver.

"Shanahan was more into what works and what doesn't; Billick is more into numbers, but I expect similar practices," said Swayne. "It's all scripted. We'll work on situations. There will not be one wasted moment."

Receiver Jermaine Lewis said: "Actually, I'm looking forward to practice. Brian brings a high level of expectations. When he says something, he expects you to do it. This team is all about accountability now."

Billick said he was ready to get to work this morning. His body has an alarm that goes off around this time every year. Only this time, he sets the pace.

"I think we did a nice job in minicamp of setting the pace and what we want out of practice," said Billick. "Training camp is vital because any time you expose them to the physical wear and tear every day, there is a risk of injury. But if we didn't think it was important, we wouldn't do it."

Ravens camp

What: Ravens training camp

When: Through Aug. 26

Where: Western Maryland College, Westminster

Information: 410-261-FANS

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