The loss of starting flanker Patrick Johnson to a broken collarbone yesterday left the Ravens short of healthy wide receivers, but will not influence stalemated negotiations with first-round pick Travis Taylor, coach Brian Billick said.
"Patrick's situation does not affect that dynamic," Billick said. "What that 10th pick represents, it's well-slotted, well-documented. It's not going to change."
Johnson broke his right clavicle when he slammed to the ground untouched while making a diving catch on a deep fade route in the morning practice. He's expected to miss at least six weeks, and may not return until after the Ravens' Week 2 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Down to six healthy receivers just two days into training camp at Western Maryland College, the Ravens immediately went in search of reinforcements. They put out feelers to veteran free-agent receiver Carl Pickens, and signed rookie free agent Linton Coleman of Lane College.
Pickens, released recently by the Cincinnati Bengals after a long and acrimonious divorce, was visiting the Tennessee Titans yesterday amid speculation he would sign with the AFC champions.
"I'm comfortable with the [receivers] group we have here," Billick said. "This is a good, young group. It's working hard. Marcus Nash continues to look good. Brandon Stokley's getting back into rhythm. Jermaine [Lewis] has had a great off-season."
The loss of Johnson was not insignificant. The third-year veteran was looking for a breakout season after two seasons of flashing big-play potential.
"This was going to be a very big year for me," Johnson said after X-rays at Carroll County General Hospital showed the break. "[But] I still think it could be a very big year for me."
When the Ravens return to practice this morning, Jermaine Lewis, a one-time starter, will assume Johnson's starting role. Nash will have the opportunity for more reps.
But it will be missed opportunity for Taylor, the former University of Florida receiver whose negotiations appear at an impasse.
"If at some point our Gator wakes up and smells the roses, it'd be a great spot, a great opportunity, for him," Billick said.
The Ravens, however, remain far apart in negotiations with Taylor's agents, Steve Weinberg and David Canter, perhaps by as much as $21 million.
Weinberg said this week that Taylor would accept a contract worth $31.8 million, including incentives, over five years. The Dallas-based agent also said he would accept a contract worth $8.164 in signing bonus and salary, before incentives.
Although the Ravens have declined to talk about negotiations or their offer, the NFL's first-round slotting practice would likely put it at five years, $7.36 million with a $5 million signing bonus.
That's halfway between ninth pick Brian Urlacher's contract (five years, $7.86 million, $5.5 million signing bonus) and 11th pick Ron Dayne's deal (five years, $7.14 million, $4.5 million signing bonus).
With incentives, Urlacher's deal maximizes at $10.725 million, which suggests incentives might boost Taylor to the $10 million mark as well. Hence, there's a likely $21 million gap between the two sides.
Two years ago, first-round pick Duane Starks, a cornerback taken with the 10th pick, staged a 16-day holdout before signing a four-year, $6.482 million deal.
In hindsight, Starks doesn't second-guess himself.
"I don't regret it," he said. "What if I came in for a bad contract? It's part of business."
But Starks said the two weeks put him in a catch-up mode for the first part of the season.
"It took a lot longer than it would have," he said. "I felt I made it up by midseason, when I was starting."
Quarterback Tony Banks characterized Taylor's lost time as "immeasurable. ... It'll take a learning curve on his part to catch up. Less sleep, less rest."
Wide receivers coach Milt Jackson said much of the time Taylor misses can't be made up.
"Everything goes so fast," he said. "You can't make up that time. You never get those repetitions back. A veteran guy is a little different. But he hasn't been there.
"The more he stays out, the harder it'll be to play."
For now, Johnson's starting job belongs to Lewis, who struggled through a disappointing 1999 as a receiver and a punt returner.
"I'm going to continue to do what I planned on doing," Lewis said. "Work hard. I am more comfortable with the offense, and I'm building a rapport with Tony.
"My main job is punt returner. What I'm trying to do is bring us back to the level that was feared. Our defense is real good, so I'll get a lot of opportunities."
The injury left Johnson philosophical. He won't be able to use his right arm for four weeks, according to trainer Bill Tessendorf.
"It's disappointing," Johnson said. "But I will do everything I possibly can so I only miss one or two games. If I only miss one or two, I can deal with that. It's better to happen now than at the end of camp."