Swann agent: Ravens `on list'

Injury questions make club hedge on pursuit of defensive tackle

July 13, 2000|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Even as Steve Zucker mapped travel plans yesterday for newly minted free agent Eric Swann, he tossed out a lifeline to Baltimore.

The Ravens, Zucker said, are one of the teams on Swann's radar screen.

"He wants to go to a contender," said Zucker, Swann's Chicago-based agent. "He would like to play on the eastern seaboard. And he lives in Reston, Va. He built a home there last year.

"Baltimore would be on his list."

It's a short list. One day after the veteran defensive tackle was cut by the Arizona Cardinals in a long-rumored salary-cap move, Swann visited the Carolina Panthers.

Today, he's in Chicago to see the Bears. And Monday, he'll hit the Denver Broncos, who do not qualify as an eastern seaboard city but do qualify with a salary cap surplus of $4.5 million.

As of yesterday, the Ravens had not entered the Swann sweepstakes. And if they do, it will be warily.

"We will proceed cautiously," said Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president for player personnel. "We're always looking to upgrade our team."

Newsome said he expected to talk with Zucker in the next 48 hours "just to see where the thing is."

From his vacation spot in Minnesota, coach Brian Billick seconded that motion.

"Depending on how cap-friendly it is, we would be very interested," Billick said. "Certainly, it'd be something we'd look at. In the final result, I'm guessing that it may be a bit prohibitive."

The upside to Swann is this: He's a two-time Pro Bowl pick who once played for Ravens defensive line coach Rex Ryan in Arizona. At his best, he was one of the most dominating tackles in the game.

The downside? He turns 30 next month and has had seven knee surgeries in nine NFL seasons. He missed 16 games the past two years; he was criticized for his loyalty to the team and questioned for his ability to play hurt.

With Swann, one of the league's few players not to have played college ball, the injury factor looms largest.

"We cannot get the kind of contract he deserves while there are questions about his knees," said Zucker, who hopes to get a deal within 10 days.

To answer those questions, Swann is willing to sign a lesser contract in order to line up a bigger one, Zucker said.

"We've got to be very creative," the agent said. "What we're looking for is to get him in there, let him show the team that he is Eric Swann, that he's back. Once we've done that, then there can be a major contract."

Swann played 111 games for the Cardinals, collected 44 sacks and went to back-to-back Pro Bowls in 1995-96. But his career in Arizona ended badly. He signed a five-year, $25 million contract in 1998, before two knee surgeries prematurely ended his season.

He returned by the fifth game of 1999 as a third-down pass rusher and goal-line defender, then sat out the last three games after saying his arthritic right knee was not strong enough. He has not started a game since Oct. 4, 1998.

The Ravens, meanwhile, could have a need at defensive tackle if a contract dispute with Tony Siragusa is not resolved. They already have lost Larry Webster for at least eight games to a violation of the NFL's substance-abuse policy.

Newsome isn't about to leap into a bidding war, especially with first-round picks Jamal Lewis and Travis Taylor unsigned. The lifeline is dangling, but caution is the operative word.

"If we can get the right player at the right price, we're all for it," Newsome said.

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