Sharper wraps up new deal

Free-agent linebacker retained by Ravens for 5 years, $22 million

`Very good day for Ravens'

Cap-friendly contract keeps front 7 intact on record-setting `D'

Pro Football

April 04, 2001|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The Ravens' victory tour through an illuminating off-season continued unabated yesterday when unrestricted free agent Jamie Sharper signed a five-year contract worth $22 million to stay with the Super Bowl champions.

A soft market, a sense of belonging and a calm head helped keep the outside linebacker in Baltimore and the Ravens' record-setting defense on the cutting edge.

Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel, was quick to find the bottom line to a fitful round of negotiations that seemingly went from "no way" to "why not?"

"At this point, we can stand here and say we're taking our [defensive] front seven back into the 2001 season," Newsome said. "I think that's very important.

"Jamie's just entering the prime of his career, and add that to the front four we have, I think this is a very good day for the Ravens. ... I think it shows the fans the commitment the Modell family has to keep this football team together as much as we can so that we can try to repeat what we did last year."

It was another in a series of good days for the Ravens. So far this off-season, the gains (quarterback Elvis Grbac, offensive tackle Leon Searcy and now Sharper) outweigh the losses (center Jeff Mitchell, safety Kim Herring).

Adrift four weeks in a stagnant free-agent market, Sharper decided there was no place like home.

"To be able to come back to the Ravens for a fifth year is truly a blessing," he said. "I think my four-year career here blossomed from a cellar-dwelling team to a world champion, and when it came down to free agency - just looking at all the teams in the league - it just couldn't compare to the Baltimore Ravens.

"I believe we'll be world champions again next year, [and] I want to be part of that."

He wanted it badly enough that when the Ravens backed off one proposal and his agent, Tony Agnone, said he should walk, Sharper, 26, continued to talk.

He wanted it badly enough that when the Ravens moved first-year money into the second year - with an option caveat - he was willing to go along for the ride.

Technically, his is a two-year contract with a three-year option, similar to the deals Grbac and Searcy got. The Ravens will have to execute an option before the 2002 season to activate the final three years.

Sharper's bottom line is this: He can earn $12.5 million over the first three years of the contract, or, in a worst-case and unlikely scenario, he could be back in the free-agent market a year from now.

According to Agnone, the Ravens were able to reduce Sharper's 2000 cap number of $1.027 million to make it cap-friendly in 2001. Assuming Sharper's base salary for this season to be about $500,000, his signing bonus would project to the $2.6 million range.

Agnone described the negotiations as "the most unique I've had in 23 years," and said he advised Sharper to go elsewhere at one point.

"I told him once the offer was off the table that he should go another direction," Agnone said.

Sharper, 26, resisted.

"Tony was a little upset from how negotiations were going," he said. "After a while, I told him to get something done with Baltimore, and that's what he was able to do."

Sharper acknowledged frustration, but said his parents, Harry Sr. and Pauline, both of whom attended yesterday's news conference, helped him cope.

"I definitely had some anxiety," he said. "The main thing was to sit back and realize I had almost no control over what was going on."

Agnone, who talked to five teams about Sharper, including the Jacksonville Jaguars, said Sharper felt an attachment to the community because of his work with the Police Athletic League in Baltimore County.

"He's given $50,000 in in-kind service and money to the PAL over four years," Agnone said. "He feels like that's something that can continue. He felt a little tug there. He likes his teammates. He likes [linebackers coach] Jack Del Rio and [defensive coordinator] Marvin Lewis. He thinks he's on the upswing. He took all that into consideration."

Lewis said he expects Sharper to get more third-down snaps now that the passing-situation defense will be reconfigured with the loss of Herring.

"Jamie's gone out and proved that he's going to make plays," Lewis said. "He obviously stepped it up in the playoffs. He was one of our best players, if not the best, through the playoffs."

Sharper forced five fumbles in the regular season, and had two interceptions and two sacks in the postseason.

Keeping him was yet another victory for a team used to winning.

"It says two things," Del Rio said of the signing. "One, it says Ozzie, Mr. [Art] Modell, Pat [Moriarty, chief negotiator], all the people that make those decisions for us, stepped up to the plate and got it done.

"And two, it wouldn't have happened if Jamie hadn't made up his mind that unless there was just a great offer somewhere else, he was going to come back and make it work here."

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