Newsome comes to terms with another great tight end

February 17, 2000|By Ken Rosenthal

Ozzie Newsome was so vexed in his attempts to obtain a quality tight end, former Ravens tight end coach Pat Hill used to joke that the Hall of Famer didn't want to acquire a player who might eclipse him.

Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, ended years of personal and organizational frustration last night, agreeing to contract terms with a tight end who could break his NFL records for receptions (662) and receiving yards (7,980) at the position.

Shannon Sharpe, 31, needs just 110 catches and 997 receiving yards to catch Newsome. His goal is to surpass his new boss in the second year of his new, four-year, $13.2 million contract with the Ravens.

The deal, negotiated by Ravens vice president of administration Pat Moriarty and Sharpe's agent, Marvin Demoff, also includes a $4.5 million signing bonus -- a bargain for the most important offensive free agent in the Ravens' four-year history.

Crazy as it sounds, the agreement was initiated Monday when Ravens owner Art Modell used his private jet to court Sharpe, a resident of Glennville, Ga., flying back from Ray Lewis' bond hearing Monday in Atlanta.

Sharpe met with Ravens officials Tuesday, and engaged in a playful exchange with Newsome, the former great with the Cleveland Browns. Both are converted wide receivers who overcame questions about their blocking to become premier tight ends.

"He was telling me that he blocked for a 2,000-yard rusher [Terrell Davis]," Newsome said. "I told him I blocked for two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season, so that makes us equal [Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack both rushed for 1,000 yards in 1985].

"There are a lot of similarities. He thinks he's going to break my records in 12 years. I did it in 13. That's what he's hoping to do. Then he could take the acclaim as the best tight end, because he did it in 12.

"I'd be fine with that. As long as he's helping me get to a Super Bowl, I'd be very fine with it."

Newsome also would have been fine with the Ravens' other free-agent options, Ben Coates and Troy Drayton. But it is only fitting that his perennial quest to find the next Ozzie Newsome ended with Sharpe.

In 1993, Newsome and the Cleveland Browns were prepared to draft a tight end at No. 42, but were left with defensive end Dan Footman after Tony McGee went 37th and Drayton 39th.

In 1995, Newsome wanted to draft tight end Kyle Brady at No. 10, but traded down after the New York Jets took Brady one spot earlier, gaining the first-round pick that ultimately brought Lewis to the Ravens.

And in '96, Newsome traded three picks to acquire the 55th overall choice with the goal of selecting tight end Jason Dunn. The Philadelphia Eagles foiled that plan by taking Dunn at No. 54, and the Ravens picked Deron Jenkins.

Maybe it all happened for a reason.

None of those players is Sharpe.

As you might expect, head coach Brian Billick has the numbers to quantify Sharpe's potential impact. And as you might expect, Billick is giddy over the prospect of upgrading a tight-end corps that combined for 34 receptions, 251 yards and one touchdown in 1999 -- numbers Sharpe might attain in half a season.

Start with Tony Banks, the free-agent quarterback the Ravens expect to re-sign. Projecting his 10-game statistics over a full season, he would have passed for 27 touchdowns and more than 3,400 yards -- above the NFL average in the first category, right on it in the second, with meager talent at wide receiver and tight end.

By adding Sharpe, the Ravens will improve their intermediate passing game, not to mention their red-zone offense, which ranked next-to-last in the NFL. Banks figures to progress in his second season under Billick. With just two more catches per game at tight end, his completion percentage likely would rise from 52.8 percent.

"If we can add that element to our offense, how good can we be?" Billick asked early yesterday. "Can we get back those four games we lost by three points? And that doesn't even address what two more catches could do to the third-down conversion rate -- how many more snaps would it give you?

"If we get two more third-down conversions, that's six more plays minimum. What can I do with six plays? Tony Banks threw a touchdown one out of every 10 completions. That's a pretty good ratio."

And that gives you an idea what Sharpe will bring the Ravens simply from an X-and-O perspective. Assuming the team also upgrades at receiver -- ideally, by drafting Michigan State's Plaxico Burress and signing Carl Pickens after June 1 if he is released by the Cincinnati Bengals -- Sharpe will create mismatches with virtually every safety and nickel or dime back who covers him.

He'll make the running game better, he'll make the passing game better, he'll make the entire team better by keeping the defense off the field. And now that the Ravens have found a tight end, they can draft Burress at No. 5 and a quarterback or running back with their second first-round pick -- or work some other combination.

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