Ravens' offers to 2 show faith

Linebacker Sharper, center Mitchell get tenders of $1.027M

Sign of long-term interest

Rival suitor would lose 1st-round pick in deal

February 12, 2000|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

The Ravens tendered a high offer of $1.027 million each to restricted free agents Jamie Sharper, an outside linebacker, and center Jeff Mitchell yesterday, which indicates the team plans to offer them long-term contracts.

The high tenders mean that any other team signing Sharper or Mitchell during the free agency period would have to compensate the Ravens with a first-round pick in the 2000 draft. It's highly unlikely any team would pay such a price for either player.

Sharper was a second-round pick out of the University of Virginia in 1997 and had a breakthrough season in 1999, finishing with 122 tackles, second best on the team. Mitchell started every game at center, and the fifth-round selection from the University of Florida has put together two solid seasons.

If the Ravens hadn't offered the $1.027 million tender, then a team could sign either of the players and would only have to compensate the Ravens their original draft position.

Ravens coach Brian Billick said the team would like to re-sign unrestricted free agents such as quarterback Tony Banks and Rob Burnett before negotiating with Mitchell or Sharper.

"We have a little bit more control, but clearly we would like to solidify that one day," said Billick of signing Sharper and Mitchell to contract extensions. "Jamie has fewer options than a true free agent. He had a great year for us. We want to take care of our existing players, but because of the time factor, our priorities are the ones who are truly free agents. This doesn't mean that they're not important to us, but we have to focus on guys who are out on the street, so to speak."

While some teams jumped quickly to sign players on the first day of free agency yesterday, the Ravens were content to watch the action, signing only Damon Denson, a second-year guard from the New England Patriots. Denson, 6 feet 4 and 310 pounds, started only four games for the Patriots, those coming during the 1998 season.

But that doesn't mean the Ravens weren't busy. Both Billick and Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel, said the Ravens were working on arranging visits by free-agent players, beginning possibly as early as Tuesday.

One of those could be former Minnesota tight end Andrew Glover, who was released by Billick's former team, the Vikings, on Thursday.

The Ravens also have interest in tight ends Ben Coates, 30; Troy Drayton, 29, and Denver's Shannon Sharpe, 31.

"He's a good person," said Billick of Glover. "He's in excellent condition. He's a real professional the way he applies himself. Obviously, there is a place for him in the scheme. He's clearly one we know a little about and we're interested in him.

"Tight end is one position where quality guys have been pushed out in the market that we didn't anticipate," said Billick, whose team increased its proposal to Ravens unrestricted free-agent wide receiver Qadry Ismail yesterday. "But if we do sign one, it does not preclude us from drafting at that position, as well."

Tight end would be the Ravens' No. 1 priority in free agency, but the team also is in the market for a wide receiver.

The Ravens have had preliminary discussions with the Seattle Seahawks, who are eager to trade receiver Joey Galloway, but both Billick and Newsome said it is doubtful the team would sign another player until next week.

The Ravens also are interested in trading for Cincinnati Bengals receiver Carl Pickens, who criticized Bengals management and coach Bruce Coslet repeatedly during the previous two seasons.

The Ravens were vague in talking about Pickens, who is under contract to the Bengals. Galloway has been designated Seattle's franchise player.

"I don't know him as well as some of the others [receivers]," Billick said of Galloway. "I would want to develop a comfort zone with him personally."

Of Pickens, Newsome said: "I will only say that I've had discussions with several teams about making trades."

Newsome, though, did say the Ravens might eventually take a look at receiver Jake Reed, who also was cut by the Vikings on Thursday, as well as former Minnesota Pro Bowl guard Randall McDaniel.

Billick likes Reed, a nine-year veteran, but isn't sure if he can play an entire 16-game schedule. The team feels he could be a role player.

Billick said he was encouraged by talks between the club and Banks and Burnett. But he indicated that there would come a time, probably after the draft, when the team might have to pursue a veteran quarterback starter if Banks remains unsigned.

Former Tennessee Titans and University of Maryland quarterback Neil O'Donnell is one candidate. The Bengals' Jeff Blake was also a possible replacement until he signed with the New Orleans Saints yesterday.

In another development yesterday, Ravens unrestricted free-agent running back Errict Rhett visited the Miami Dolphins. Rhett rejected a Ravens contract offer during the last week of the season. He led the Ravens in rushing last season with 852 yards on 236 carries.

Miami's training camp is only a 10-minute drive from Rhett's home in Plantation, Fla. He could sign with the Dolphins as early as today.

"When you're a veteran player, you want to play in a first-class organization. That's what the Dolphins are," said Rhett.

"It would be a beautiful situation for me."

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