Holdouts: no leverage and no clue

July 25, 2000|By Mike Preston

WHERE DO WE begin?

Should we start with the big-time agent wannabe? Or the defensive tackle who needs to get a clue? How about the last of the rookie holdouts?

There were three Ravens holdouts yesterday on the first day of training camp at Western Maryland College. The No Leverage Boys were starting defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, rookie receiver and No. 10 overall pick Travis Taylor and punter Kyle Richardson.

Yes, a punter. Stop the laughing.

It's comical because all three players have virtually no leverage in their negotiations. Taylor is a victim of the slotting system used throughout the league. Richardson and Siragusa are under contract for the 2000 season. Richardson changed his mind and signed his $358,000 tender yesterday afternoon.

But for Siragusa and Taylor, it's either play or don't get paid. The advantage belongs to the Ravens. Here's my advice: Show up, shut up and play. End of conversation.

"I'm thrilled with the guys we have here in camp," said the Ravens' Compu Coach, aka Brian Billick. "We have everybody we need to be successful. We could augment along the way. There is any number of people who can help us out there, and Tony is one of them. But right now my focus is going to stay on the ones who are here."

When asked if there would be any further negotiations with Siragusa, Compu Coach replied: "No negotiations. Any discussions are to come once they come to camp, and we'll talk further if there is need. Until then, there will be no changes of contract status."

Maybe the punter was roughed up too much last season. His offer was more than enough for a player who has had only two good seasons in the league. Richardson performed well last season with 39 punts inside the 20-yard line and a 42.3-yard gross average, but we're not talking Ray Guy consistency here.

Not even Sean Landeta.

Richardson was part of special teams units that cost the Ravens two to three games last season. Punters come and go in the NFL. He may have been on the way out, but might have saved his career by agreeing to terms yesterday.

It's hard not to miss the 6-foot-3, 320-pound Siragusa or his mouth. But he backed it up the past two seasons. On game day, few can match his intensity. He is still one of the best run stoppers in the league.

But Siragusa is 33 with a history of knee problems. The Ravens want him for only this season. His contract, with one year remaining, calls for him to get paid $1.5 million, but the team has offered $2 million. The Big Man wants a two- year deal worth an average of $2.5 million, which is close to the average on the contract signed by fellow defensive tackle Sam Adams in April.

So far, there's a stalemate, but again the Ravens have the edge. Can Siragusa be replaced? Absolutely. There would be some drop-off if third-year reserves Lional Dalton, Martin Chase or possibly Gilbert Brown played, but it wouldn't be significant.

They just can't create as big a pile when they take plays off. But more on the serious side, Ray Lewis plays behind Siragusa. He just happens to be the best middle linebacker in the league.

Veiled threats by one of Siragusa's agents, Terry Lavenstein, won't work in these negotiations. If Siragusa can launch a broadcasting career with ABC or the XFL if he doesn't get a contract extension, then just do it. There was also speculation about the team's not making the playoffs without Siragusa.

Question: Have the Ravens made the playoffs with Siragusa?

And he is making his own decisions, not his agent. That's not the case with Taylor, who is represented by Steve Weinberg. Weinberg likes to talk to everybody but the Ravens. He wants to be in that elite group of agents with Leigh Steinberg, Marvin Demoff and Eugene Parker.

But none among that trio would have allowed his client to look so arrogant, so pompous during an ESPN report showing Taylor on a shopping spree when he had yet to sign a contract. Neither Steinberg nor Demoff would have told the Ravens he would not negotiate Taylor's contract in order to get third- and fifth-round picks done with other teams.

Negotiations aren't that hard. For rookies, they're based on the slotting system. The ninth pick, Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher, has signed for five years and $7.86 million. Pittsburgh wide receiver Plaxico Burress, the No. 8 selection, has agreed to a five-year deal valued at $8.667 million. One slot behind Taylor, running back Ron Dayne has signed a five-year deal worth $7.14 million with the New York Giants.

Somewhere in between, the Ravens and Taylor need to do a deal. Jamal Lewis money, six years and $35.3 million, is out of the question. Until it's done, only Taylor loses out. He is already listed as No. 2 behind Patrick Johnson, and each day will fall further behind.

The Ravens are not blameless in these situations. They have a reputation around the league for being slow negotiators and low-balling players. Adams went through it; so did weak-side linebacker Jamie Sharper as a rookie.

The committee approach used for decision making by the Ravens needs to be modified: less talk and more freedom by negotiator Pat Moriarty to get deals done without always conferring with vice president Ozzie Newsome, who has to get approval from owner Art Modell.

But that's down the road. For now, the Ravens are in the driver's seat, while the No Leverage Boys have nowhere to go.

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