Cap limits hit Ravens' offense, too

Ismail, Gash among next cuts as team works on $19M trim

Grbac restructuring also due

Exiting Ismail, Sharpe had 46% of receptions

`we have no choice'

February 26, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens' rebuilding won't be limited to the defense.

The salary cap-strapped former champions are releasing leading receiver Qadry Ismail and fullback Sam Gash, agent Tony Agnone confirmed yesterday.

Before Friday, the Ravens need to make $19 million in cuts, including the restructuring of quarterback Elvis Grbac's contract, to get under the $71.1 million league spending limit.

The team has scheduled a news conference today to officially announce its cap-related cuts, and three defensive starters -- end Rob Burnett, tackle Sam Adams and free safety Rod Woodson -- along with tight end Shannon Sharpe are all likely to be released. Earlier, the Ravens exposed -- and lost -- starting linebacker Jamie Sharper and punt returner Jermaine Lewis to the Houston Texans in the expansion draft in part due to cap considerations.

While the heavy losses on defense were expected, the cutting of Ismail and Gash comes as a surprise.

Ismail, 31, the leading receiver in team history, caught a career-high 74 passes last season and led the Ravens with seven touchdowns. With Ismail and Sharpe gone, the Ravens will have to replace their top two receivers who accounted for 46 percent of the team's receptions last season.

Gash, who will turn 33 next week, was a major force in the Ravens averaging 125 yards rushing per game over the past two seasons as one of the league's best blocking backs.

"Yeah, I'm uncomfortable with it," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I wish we didn't have to do it. But that's where we're at. I'm optimistic that when it's all said and done, hopefully anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of the people that we had to push out there will be back with us sometime by June.

"We have no choice. It's a necessity. This is what we have to do to comply with the financial restraints of the cap. The part that we're focusing on is that we have the experience to know that a lot of this is going to rectify itself by June. This is not a surprise for us."

June has become the unofficial beginning of the NFL's second phase of free agency since teams can lessen the immediate salary cap impact of releasing a player by doing it after June 1. If the Ravens choose to create cap space by cutting more players on June 1, they could re-sign the players released in March at likely discounted salaries.

The release of Ismail and Gash won't result in huge cap savings, as the team will create a total of $1.3 million in cap room. Last Thursday, the Ravens informed Agnone, who represents Ismail and Gash, that the team would part ways with the players.

"I have heard from a Ravens official that they would be released this week, and the team is not interested in bringing them back," Agnone said. "We're disappointed, but in the era of the salary cap, this is not unusual."

The Ravens will be seeking further cap relief by restructuring Grbac's contract. The quarterback is scheduled to receive a $6 million roster bonus on Saturday in addition to his $1.5 million base salary for next season.

Although Grbac hasn't agreed to a new deal yet, the Ravens seem optimistic about reworking his contract by Friday. Last week, Billick visited Grbac's home in Cleveland to get a feel for his quarterback's plans.

"I have no reason to believe that Elvis won't be back with us next year," Billick said. "Like a number of players, we're asking him to do some contractual things. If Elvis does those things for us -- and I don't have reason to believe that he won't -- I think the people in Baltimore need to give him some points. I know what the perspective is right now. But give him some points for coming back into this situation, knowing that he's facing certain fan resentment."

The Ravens also are trying to renegotiate with Adams, who has an $8.5 million salarp cap number (a combination of his prorated signing bonus and annual salary). It's unlikely the sides will reach an agreement by Friday, when the team can free up $6 million if it cuts Adams.

The Ravens will shave another $6 million when they release Sharpe, Woodson, Burnett, Ismail and Gash, and they will remove an additional $2.3 million with the retirement of defensive tackle Tony Siragusa. By losing those seven players, the Ravens would reduce their cap trouble from $19 million to $5 million.

The team could gain $2 million in cap room by cutting defensive end Michael McCrary before Friday but will likely wait until June 1 to spread the cap hit over the 2002 and 2003 seasons. The Ravens also are looking to rework the deals of standouts Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware and Jonathan Ogden. It is believed the team has to restructure these contracts to re-sign free-agent cornerback Duane Starks.

Despite all of those cap-related moves, the Ravens will remain tight against the cap. That means the Ravens are not expected to be active when the free agency period begins Friday.

"We don't have that latitude," Billick said. "If we had that kind of latitude, we wouldn't be pushing people out like Sam Gash."

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