Safety first: Ravens lose Herring to Rams

He's only `D' starter so far to make move

March 23, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens lost the first starter from their vaunted defense, but they weren't left with a void to fill.

Free-agent safety Kim Herring signed a five-year contract with the St. Louis Rams yesterday, creating little surprise at the Ravens' Owings Mills practice complex. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

With Herring gone, the Ravens have made Corey Harris the leading candidate to replace him at strong safety.

Harris had two impressive starts during the playoffs last season when Herring bruised his ankle. That's why the Ravens were not compelled to make an offer to Herring.

"We came into free agency with quarterback and an offensive lineman as our priorities," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel. "When those are your priorities, you're not going to keep all your players."

The Rams cut starting free safety Keith Lyle, meaning Herring will be able to shift back to his natural position. For the past two seasons with the Ravens, Herring played strong safety so that Rod Woodson could start at free safety.

Herring, a Ravens second-round pick in 1997, established career highs with 66 tackles and three interceptions. He also recorded 12 passes broken up, two forced fumbles and 11 special-teams tackles. In the Super Bowl, Herring had a third-quarter interception.

But Herring, 25, now makes the jump from the NFL's stingiest defense to the league's most generous. The Rams allowed a league-worst 29.4 points a game last season.

"Hopefully, we can get to a point where we have a good balance between the offense and defense," said Herring, who joins center Jeff Mitchell as the only two Ravens free agents to leave so far. "We get the right guys in the right places, we can start to get somewhere good."

Rams general manager Charley Armey had Herring as the highest-rated free agent at any position.

"He's a young player [performing] at an extremely high level on arguably the best defense in the history of the NFL," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "It was an opportunity that we felt we just couldn't pass up."

Harris, 31, gives the Ravens a more physical presence at strong safety.

He totaled 16 tackles in his two playoff starts, including an 11-tackle effort at Tennessee. During the regular season, he came in as an extra defensive back on passing situations and finished with 37 tackles, two interceptions and eight passes defensed.

"We knew we had depth at safety," Newsome said.

Another free-agent starter on the defense, linebacker Jamie Sharper, met with the Carolina Panthers yesterday. It was his third visit of free agency.

It is believed that the Panthers can't afford Sharper at this time and are waiting to see what happens with the Ravens.

When asked about his chances to re-sign with the Ravens, Sharper said to the Charlotte Observer, "That remains to be seen."

He then added: "I don't care about Baltimore right now. I'm looking at the teams that want me. I don't appreciate them taking the offer off the table."

Ravens officials deny pulling any proposal from Sharper. The Super Bowl champions said they are "re-evaluating" their free-agent plans with the intention of keeping their four-year starter.

NOTE: Free-agent linebacker O. J. Brigance, the Ravens' second-leading tackler on special teams, visited the Rams on Tuesday.

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