McCrary act has feeling of Ravens rerun

August 29, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

Congratulations to Michael McCrary -- he's about to lose a public relations battle to an owner with little credibility.

And congratulations to the Ravens -- they're about to puncture the optimism of coach Brian Billick's first season.

Haven't we seen this before? Of course, we have. Think back to Steve Everitt. And Wally Williams. And James Jones.

McCrary is one of the game's top defensive ends, an intense, popular player who should be the centerpiece of his team and the toast of the town.

But yesterday, he bolted the Ravens, even though -- and we hate to remind Missing Mike of this -- he is under contract for 1999.

At least Williams held out at the start of training camp. McCrary is threatening to pull a Sean Gilbert and sit out the entire season, according to his agent, Michael George.

George used to be known as Michael Kevorkian, which is only too perfect.

He's pulling the plug not only on the Ravens, but his own client, too.

Last we checked, McCrary is a free agent at the end of the season. That means it is in his best interests to actually put on a uniform and play.

Billick might want to remind McCrary of this if he cares about the Ravens' pass rush. Or Billick might take the opposite tack, telling McCrary he doesn't want a player who shows such little regard for his team.

His owner would stand behind him.

His fans might, too.

One missed week of practice, and McCrary will be doubtful for the Sept. 12 opener in St. Louis. That was his initial deadline for completing a contract extension. It's still two weeks away.

And now this overreaction.

Why even consider such a stunt?

Because the Ravens have a history of botching negotiations, and McCrary knows how important it is for the team to keep him, for reasons that go beyond his play.

The more logical strategy would have been to stay the course and allow public sentiment to build against owner Art Modell. But McCrary and George are so eager for the kill, he couldn't wait.

This is the poisoned environment the Ravens created.

And as usual, it's difficult to sympathize with their plight.

You never know exactly what the problem is with the Baltimore Debtors at contract time. Could be cash flow. Could be inept negotiating. Could be anything, but, rest assured, it's always something.

Remember club president David Modell's comments after the team got blindsided in free agency and lost Jones to the Detroit Lions last February?

"With an eye on free-agent insanity, perhaps we need to look a bit deeper and get a few more guys done to make sure we keep them," Modell said. "I don't think that point has been lost on us."

The Ravens later extended one potential free agent, guard Jeff Blackshear. But Modell made special mention of McCrary, saying, "He's a guy we are committed to re-signing. And I promise you it won't be a small bill."

What happened?

Michael Strahan happened, just like Kevin Mawae happened last season, muddling the Williams negotiations.

Strahan signed a four-year, $32 million extension with the New York Giants on Aug. 9, receiving a $12 million signing bonus. The Ravens reportedly are offering McCrary a comparable bonus, but $8 million less over the first four years.

Strahan, 27, is two years younger than McCrary. His statistics are slightly better. And, perhaps most significant, he hasn't undergone four knee operations, the most glaring negative on McCrary's resume.

The Ravens can argue that McCrary represents a medical risk. They can argue that they've got depth with Keith Washington and Fernando Smith. They can argue anything they want, but how are they going to replace McCrary's 14.5 sacks when their line also includes the aging Tony Siragusa and Rob Burnett?

Maybe it's unreasonable to ask them to match the Strahan deal, but George keeps complaining that their offer is below market value. Either the Ravens play the game -- the way they did by extending Ray Lewis and Jermaine Lewis last season -- or they suffer the consequences.

They can control McCrary for at least two more seasons by making him their franchise player in 2000. They can sign him in the middle of the season, the way they did with the two Lewises. But given the public skepticism they face, by no means do they hold the upper hand.

McCrary isn't the NFL's only holdout -- receiver Joey Galloway has yet to report to Seattle. But the Williams dispute stained the Ravens' 1998 season, distracting not only Williams, but also his friend, Orlando Brown. And now history is about to repeat, as it almost always does with this sorry team.

The solution is for McCrary to return to camp and for the two sides to return to the negotiating table. But it's anyone's guess what will happen now.

McCrary is blowing it. The Ravens are blowing it.

Congratulations, to all.

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