Contract is needed sign of new time

August 31, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

David Modell admits the Ravens botched the Wally Williams negotiations a year ago. But he insists that the Michael McCrary contract dispute is a separate issue, and that this time, the Ravens have done nothing wrong.

Whether you agree or disagree, the bottom line is that the Ravens must sign McCrary before their Sept. 12 opener, or Modell's words will ring hollow.

Modell, the son of owner Art Modell, repeated yesterday that he is committed to keeping McCrary. And as team president and chief operating officer, his stature within the organization has never been higher.

"When I say I'm going to do something, I do it. Period. End of story," Modell said. "Even if I screw up and say some thing I shouldn't have said, I'm still going to be a man and follow through on my word."

Modell said he will maintain that vow even though the McCrary landscape has been altered by the New York Giants' signing of defensive end Michael Strahan to a four-year, $32 million extension with a $12 million signing bonus.

"The Strahan signing, that's life in the big city," Modell said. "I deal with the rules. Give me the rules, I play the game. That's what happened. We'll deal with it."

In fact, Modell believes he has dealt with it, offering McCrary an extension within range of what the player's agent, Michael George, is seeking. The problem is, McCrary holds a different view.

The belief here is that a deal will get done sometime next week, simply because both sides have too much to lose if McCrary's holdout extends into the regular season.

The Ravens need to sign their Pro Bowl defensive end to bolster their pass rush and demonstrate their commitment to winning. McCrary needs to attain long-term security from the guaranteed $11.5 million bonus the team has offered.

He could be injured if he plays out the season. And even if he stays healthy, the Ravens could designate him their franchise player for 2000, paying him the average salary of the top five players at his position, but $7 million to $8 million less in up-front money.

The next move is McCrary's. The Ravens said yesterday they will not resume negotiations until he rejoins the team. But Modell and coach Brian Billick made it clear that they want McCrary signed and that the condition of his surgically repaired knee is not an issue in negotiations.

The comfort level with McCrary after four knee operations -- and the removal of such an obstacle in contract talks -- is part of what distinguishes this dispute from the confrontation with Williams a year ago.

The other difference is the ascension of David Modell.

Make no mistake, Art Modell still has the final say in all major decisions. But David has assumed greater responsibility since his promotion last February, and played an instrumental role in the hiring of Billick.

Would the Williams dispute have turned out differently if David had been operating with this much power last summer? That's impossible to say, but the younger Modell stated bluntly yesterday that the team mishandled the matter.

The Ravens initially said they wanted to extend Williams' contract before the start of training camp. Then they reversed course, saying they wanted Williams to prove that he could keep his weight down and that he had recovered from an Achilles' tendon injury.

"We screwed it up. We changed the rules. No question about it. I absolutely accept responsibility for it," Modell said. "But we've done everything we've said we're going to do in this case."

McCrary said he would break off negotiations if the two sides did not reach agreement by the season opener. But after talks stalled Friday between George and Ravens vice president Pat Moriarity, McCrary left the team.

That act of selfishness did not sit well with Billick, who all but called McCrary unprofessional yesterday when asked if the team would consider trading the player.

"There are a number of options. We explore them all. The first one begins with we expect to be dealt with professionally," Billick said.

"I've tried to deal with the players with respect. I've tried to treat them like men in everything we've done. I like to be dealt with [showing] the same respect. We've made it real clear we want Michael here. He's a major part of this football team.

"I have no doubt in my mind -- none whatsoever -- that a deal will get done. But we're not going to negotiate with him while he's not in camp. Period. End of report. Move on."

The trick now is to get McCrary back to camp, resume negotia- tions and strike a deal. Art Modell probably would have publicly criticized McCrary and George by now. David was careful not to say anything inflammatory yesterday.

"We love Michael," Modell said. "He represents everything we want to be. He is a prototypical Raven. He gives and gives and keeps on giving. We want him to end his career a Baltimore Raven."

Strong words, but only words.

To distance himself from the mistakes of the past, David Modell needs to sign Michael McCrary.

Pub Date: 8/31/99

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