Holdouts can hold up rookies, Billick says

Coach: Less injury risk if Lewis, Taylor report

July 19, 2000|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

His first-round draft picks are unsigned, the clock is running and Ravens coach Brian Billick represents the voice of experience four days before training camp.

When it comes to getting first-round selections Jamal Lewis and Travis Taylor to training camp on time, Billick would rather not consider the alternative.

"Holding them out will not gain them a single dime more than what they were going to get anyway," he said. "All it will do is put them at risk physically, with regard to this year. If you learned nothing from history and the history of rookie negotiations in the NFL, you cannot ignore that."

Billick's concern is for a rookie who reports late, rushes to make up lost ground, gets hurt in the process, and loses more time.

Given that Lewis, the first running back taken in the draft, and Taylor, the third wide receiver, are expected to make an immediate impact, it is a scenario the Ravens are trying to avoid.

"Depending on the length of the holdouts, what you see is an injury," Billick said. "Because a player tries to rush back too quickly, tries to catch up with everybody else who's been doing this for a while.

"The cumulative effect of the fatigue, the anxiety in pushing too hard, is that it catches up with you, if not early, then by the end of camp. I see it time and time again. And it's so avoidable."

Negotiations continued with Lewis' agent, Mitch Frankel, yesterday, but not with Taylor's. Steve Weinberg, the Dallas-based agent who represents Taylor, was involved in negotiations with two other clients who already were missing camp time - third-round pick Hank Poteat, a cornerback, with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and fifth-round pick Paul Smith, a running back, with the San Francisco 49ers.

"The other guys are out of camp," Weinberg said. "I have to get them in. That's the problem with not getting an offer until [Monday] night. I can't look at Travis' thing right now. He's not due until Sunday."

Weinberg and the Ravens have traded just two proposals in the past two weeks, a pace that threatens to keep the former Florida receiver out of Western Maryland College when players report Sunday night.

Billick was optimistic, however, that the Lewis negotiations will find common ground this week.

"I'm very optimistic that it will get done," he said. "I'm not saying it's imminent. But I have no reason to believe he will not be here at camp [on time]."

Billick doesn't see the necessity for Taylor to hold out, though, either.

"It's slotted so much that what we're talking about and dancing around is so minor," he said. "That's where the frustration comes in. For a player not to be in camp over minor issues - and I'm trying to be respectful of what the agent is trying to do - is not in the best interest of anyone."

NOTES: The Ravens announced yesterday that they have sold out two more regular-season home games (Sept. 10 vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oct. 22 vs. the Tennessee Titans), bringing the season total to four. Also sold out are games against the Steelers (Oct. 29) and Dallas Cowboys (Nov. 19).

"We've never had this many sellouts this early before," said director of ticket operations Roy Sommerhof. "We've had two entering training camp, but not four. And we're getting close on the [Cincinnati] Bengals and [Cleveland] Browns games."

Only 1,500 tickets remain for the Cincinnati game Sept. 24, and there are 1,700 left for the Cleveland game Nov. 26.

In other news, fifth-round pick Richard Mercier, who reached a contract agreement last week, has signed his three-year deal worth $932,000 with a $106,000 signing bonus.

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