Ravens brace for cap cuts

Today's deadline expected to bring end to Banks' tenure

Room needed for B. Johnson

On defense, Sharper, Herring might be on the way out, too

Pro Football

March 01, 2001|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Push comes to shove today when the Super Bowl-champion Ravens squeeze under the NFL's 2001 salary cap of $67.4 million.

They will terminate a few contracts, bruise a few egos, and otherwise revise a financial bottom line that made them the league's second-highest spenders in 2000.

By the 4 p.m. cap deadline, a handful of players will be looking at a change of address. Among the prominent suspects are quarterback Tony Banks, who won 11 games in two years before losing his starting job, right tackle Harry Swayne, a 14-year veteran with a bloated cap number, and reserve tackle Spencer Folau.

At least one of them expects to be cut - if not today, then soon.

"I figured I wouldn't be back here," Banks said yesterday.

Banks is due to make $2.8 million on a four-year, $18.6 million contract he signed in February 2000. But after losing back-to-back games in October and surrendering his job to Trent Dilfer in Week 9, his future in Baltimore was bleak.

Coach Brian Billick acknowledged he wants to promote scout-team quarterback Chris Redman to the backup job this season, leaving Banks without a viable spot on the team.

"I don't know that Tony Banks failed here," Billick said last week. "He was 11-7 as a starter, was a major component of our early success at a very difficult time in the season - that five out of seven stretch on the road.

"For those that want to make a case that Tony Banks failed miserably, I think they're wrong. The change was needed. History proved that to be a correct decision, but could easily have not been, by way of not having the success we had.

"That's taking nothing away from Trent. Tony's a good man, and I appreciate everything he's done. I appreciate the dilemmas he's faced. For the tip of a ball, one decision here or there, he easily could have been standing atop that podium with the Super Bowl trophy as the winning quarterback. He really could have."

Swayne, 36, started 13 regular-season games and all four postseason games last season. But he is scheduled to make $2 million next season, and has a cap figure of $4.5 million. If they cut him, the Ravens will have to eat a $750,000 incentive clause he activated by playing more than 60 percent of the team's offensive snaps.

Folau, a four-year veteran, is due to make $1.75 million this season with a cap number of $2.1 million. That's the price the Ravens agreed to pay when they matched a two-year offer sheet by the New England Patriots a year ago.

Releasing those three players would represent a savings of more than $6 million this season.

Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel, wouldn't divulge his cap strategy, but allowed that it included cutting some players, restructuring contracts, and making contract reductions.

The collective effect of those moves will enable the Ravens to enter the free-agent market that officially opens tonight at midnight, he said. Their anticipated free-agent target is quarterback Brad Johnson, who would replace Dilfer.

Defensive tackle Tony Siragusa is among those who have already restructured contracts. Defensive end Michael McCrary, who has a cap number of $6.69 million, was at the team's Owings Mills complex yesterday to rework his deal. Others who figure to restructure are middle linebacker Ray Lewis, with a cap number of $7 million and safety Rod Woodson ($5 million).

"We came to an agreement with enough contracts that we will be under the salary cap," Newsome said. "Enough to be able to [explore free-agent signings]."

But probably not enough to keep the Ravens' record-setting defense intact.

Headed for the free-agent market are two defensive starters - outside linebacker Jamie Sharper and strong safety Kim Herring - and backup linebacker Cornell Brown.

Although the Ravens privately question whether they can afford to keep Sharper, his agent, Tony Agnone, gave them a conceptual proposal that would allow him to return for at least another year.

"I gave them some outside-the-box thinking on what can be done to make this happen," he said. "Now they're going to talk it over and get back to me."

In a meeting with Newsome and Pat Moriarty, the team's chief negotiator, Agnone said the Ravens also expressed interest in re-signing his other unrestricted free agent, fullback Sam Gash.

Sharper's return would have a direct bearing on Brown. Only one of the two figures to come back, if that, said Brown's agent, Terry Lavenstein.

"Cornell would like to stay in Baltimore, but that's not written in stone," Lavenstein said. "Having not heard from the Ravens, my plan doesn't change. He'll be a free agent on Friday, early, and we intend to look at the free-agent market, which will include the Ravens."

Neil Cornrich, Herring's agent, declined to confirm that the Ravens have made his client an offer, but said he was optimistic a deal could be reached.

"Kim is very happy with Baltimore," Cornrich said. "We believe the Ravens are happy with Kim and we're hopeful that something can be worked out."

Although the Ravens have made an offer to free-agent center Jeff Mitchell, it's not believed the two sides are close to an agreement.

The league-wide, salary-cap purge has seemingly created an attractive buyer's market, because so many teams are tight against the cap.

"The group of players who will be released is probably going to be better than the group of UFAs [unrestricted free agents]," Newsome said.

Asked if the team will be active tomorrow, Newsome said, "We will be talking to potential free agents."

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