With much to lose, deal was destiny

September 10, 1999|By JOHN EISENBERG

That the Ravens and Michael McCrary would agree on a long contract extension was, from the beginning, inevitable.

It may not have seemed inevitable when the talks dragged on and McCrary finally bolted from the team two weeks ago because he was upset, but the two sides were destined to work out a deal.

Each had too much to lose.

The Ravens couldn't afford to lose McCrary, their Pro Bowl defensive end, especially now that linebacker Peter Boulware might be reduced to a third-down specialist because of a shoulder injury that won't go away.

And McCrary couldn't afford to turn down the outlandish signing bonus that was on the table from the outset of the talks.

Sure, McCrary and his agent, Michael George, wanted to extract as much as possible from Ravens owner Art Modell, which was why the talks dragged on after McCrary implied he was insulted by the Ravens' initial offer of a deal with an $11.5 million signing bonus.

Some insult.

But, in the end, McCrary wasn't about to turn down an up-front payment in that neighborhood.

No one turns down an up-front payment in that neighborhood.

McCrary and George succeeded in getting a little more by making a fuss and holding their ground; the Ravens bumped their offer from a signing bonus of $11.5 million to $12.25 million, which was the magic number -- more than the $12 million signing bonus the New York Giants gave All-Pro defensive end Michael Strahan.

But the Ravens also got what they wanted by locking up McCrary through the 2004 season -- if they want him that long -- and also by giving McCrary a smaller per year salary than Strahan.

Actually, the Ravens came out looking about as good as possible, if it's possible to look good giving a guy with sore knees so much money.

Not only did they achieve their goal of keeping McCrary's package under Strahan's, but they also handled McCrary's impromptu walkout just right.

"We won't negotiate until the player comes back," Ravens coach Brian Billick said as McCrary spent a couple of days at home in Arizona.

That was slick. Talk tough, don't burn any bridges, then get the deal done when the player returns.

That's what happened. McCrary came back after missing two days of practice, having succeeded in making his point and jump-starting the negotiations. Funny, huh? The controversial walkout, which irritated fans and drew criticism from other agents, probably was a successful gambit.

And now, a week later, a deal is in place -- a deal allowing both sides to claim a "win" of sorts, which is all they wanted anyway after the approximate parameters were established in the early going.

As for what the rest of the contract means, the many years and millions tacked onto the signing bonus, pay no attention. That money isn't guaranteed. Nor are those years. Those are strictly for George to use as a personal ad to procure other clients. The Ravens will pay McCrary an annual salary only as long as they want. The signing bonus is all that's guaranteed. The signing bonus was all that mattered.

Now, all that matters is whether McCrary, 29, can keep playing at the high level that earned him the deal.

His talent and commitment are beyond question. Jacksonville All-Pro tackle Tony Boselli recently singled him out as a particularly taxing opponent in Sports Illustrated. His record of 35 sacks in his last 38 games illustrates that few ends are better at rushing the passer or making plays.

The only question is whether his knees will hold up.

He's dealt with the problem since coming to Baltimore in 1997, and he didn't play a down in the preseason this year after undergoing surgery on his right knee in the off-season. He says he'll be ready for the Ravens' season opener against the Rams on Sunday in St. Louis, but it won't be easy for him just to step in against Orlando Pace, the Rams' fine offensive tackle, and start racking up sacks.

The Ravens obviously are hoping for the best, thinking they handled the injury conservatively and properly, but now that Boulware also is a question mark, they'd better be right.

Boulware, a Pro Bowl linebacker, is the team's other primary pass rusher, but his shoulder limited him to 16 plays in the Ravens' preseason finale against the Giants last week, and who knows what will happen Sunday?

This much is certain: The Ravens' pass rush will take a major hit if neither Boulware nor McCrary is 100 percent.

Time for McCrary to start earning that signing bonus.

But that's a short-term problem, and a minor one compared to what could have happened if McCrary and the Ravens hadn't met McCrary's deadline of reaching a deal by Sunday's opener. He'd said he would test the free-agent market next winter if that happened, decreasing his chances of remaining with the Ravens.

But give the Ravens credit. They did what they had to, it appears. They didn't try to cut the wrong corner.

They piled up a huge signing bonus and kept a player they couldn't afford to lose.

Everyone wins.

Pub Date: 9/10/99

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