Ravens expect tempo of talks to speed up

Team, free agents face Feb. 11 deals deadline

January 20, 2000|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Within the next two days, negotiations between the Ravens and several of the team's 19 free agents should begin to intensity, including talks with such top players as quarterback Tony Banks and defensive linemen Rob Burnett and Larry Webster.

Representatives of the Ravens, as well as from most other NFL teams, and player agents have spent the past week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., scouting some of the nation's top college players.

"The agents are still in the process of recruiting, but I suspect things will heat up soon," said Pat Moriarty, the team's vice president of administration. "But clearly some players will look to find out what they are worth on the free-agent market."

The Ravens have exclusive rights to negotiate with their players until Feb. 11, when free agency begins. Two Ravens who have confirmed they will test the open market are running back Errict Rhett and cornerback DeRon Jenkins.

The Ravens offered Rhett a three-year contract before the season finale against New England, but his agent, Eugene Mato, rejected it. Mato said Rhett's first choice is to play in Baltimore, but he also has notified the club of his client's intentions on free agency.

In the case of Jenkins, the team will only bid for him if another team offers less than what the Ravens feel is his market value. "I've told Eugene Parker [Jenkins' agent] that before he signs, give us a shot," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel.

Jenkins, who recently completed his fourth season, has shown steady improvement every year. Last season, he was seventh on the team in tackles with 66, but didn't have an interception. Jenkins probably will get several significant offers because it's not a particularly a strong time for cornerbacks.

Rhett was the team's leading rusher with 852 yards on 236 carries despite being slowed by a rib injury during the final quarter of the season.

Moriarty has had repeated discussions with Tony Paige, the agent for Webster, a defensive tackle. Webster, a former University of Maryland standout, was an unsung hero for the Ravens' No. 2-ranked defense. His main job was to occupy blockers and keep them off middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who led the team in tackles with 198.

Webster, though, still finished 10th on the team in tackles with 44 and had two sacks. The Ravens didn't allow a single rusher to accumulate more than 100 yards in a game against them last season.

Webster, 30, prefers to stay with the Ravens. His family lives in Elkton.

According to team sources, Webster would like a four-year deal. Because he is in the prime of his career, he should command about a $3 million to $4 million signing bonus, which is what defensive tackles James Jones, Mike Wells and Gary Walker made in recent deals.

There are only a few big-name tackles who may hit the free-agent market, including Seattle's Sam Adams, Green Bay's Gilbert Brown and San Diego's Norman Hand.

"I'm from here," Webster said. "I know the coaches and am familiar with the system. I'm not trying to be greedy and ask for Michael McCrary money. I want the team to treat me fair and pay the market value."

Lewis is one of Webster's biggest supporters.

"He's a team player," Lewis said of Webster. "Web is not out for his stats. He comes to work every day.

"If I tell him some guy is getting up quick on me in a game, he'll sacrifice his body and get the job done. He's a great part of my success and a real team player."

Moriarty has traded proposals with the agents representing Stoney Case, the No. 2 quarterback; Burnett, and guard/tackle Everett Lindsay.

Once Newsome returns from the Senior Bowl, he'll also become active in negotiations with safety/special teams player Bennie Thompson, receivers Justin Armour and Qadry Ismail, defensive end Fernando Smith and kicker Matt Stover.

The Ravens also may choose to re-sign No. 3 quarterback Scott Mitchell if Case wants to play backup somewhere else next season.

The Ravens are expected to set up a meeting with Banks' agent, Marvin Demoff, soon, but those negotiations probably won't take place until early February, when Demoff can use the deadline as leverage.

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