Ravens go to the wire with Grbac and Adams

If no deals cut, both would be released

Pro Football

February 28, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Time is running out on the Ravens' negotiations with quarterback Elvis Grbac and defensive tackle Sam Adams.

If the club cannot rework the deals for Grbac and Adams by 4 p.m. tomorrow, it will have to sever ties with both players in order to remain under the league's $71.1 million salary cap, Ravens senior vice president of football operations Ozzie Newsome said yesterday.

As of late yesterday, team officials confirmed that there was no substantial progress made in talks with the agents for Grbac and Adams.

The Ravens apparently are asking Grbac, who is due a $6 million roster bonus along with a 2002 base salary of $1.5 million, to take a significant pay cut after an inconsistent first season with the team.

The Ravens' other task is lowering the $8 million salary cap number of Adams, a two-time Pro Bowl player who can void his contract and become an unrestricted free agent if no agreement is finalized.

If Adams leaves, the Ravens will be without eight of their 11 defensive starters from last year (including the expected June release of defensive end Michael McCrary). The only returning starters would be middle linebacker Ray Lewis, outside linebacker Peter Boulware and cornerback Chris McAlister.

But the scheme will change along with the personnel as the Ravens have a plan to rebuild their defense. Looking to Lewis and Boulware as the foundation, the Ravens are set to switch from a 4-3 defense (four defensive linemen and three linebackers) to a 3-4 alignment.

"It'll be unfair to all of them to say they're not going through a transition," said new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who takes over for Marvin Lewis. "But we have every right to be good. We'll have growing pains but that doesn't mean losing pains."

The new-look defense is slated to showcase the Ravens' strongest remaining group with Lewis and Ed Hartwell, a fourth-round draft pick in 2001, starting as the inside linebackers and Boulware and Adalius Thomas as the outside linebackers. Team officials said the combination of Boulware and Thomas attacking from the edges could rival Pittsburgh's outside duo of Jason Gildon and Joey Porter.

The major hurdle is convincing Lewis that he can excel just as well in a 3-4 defense. Lewis, the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2000, has spent his six-year career in a 4-3 alignment in which running backs were funneled in his direction.

"Ray is the key to it," Nolan said. "Ray understands what the team is going through and the importance of his job."

The Ravens' top priority in free agency is re-signing cornerback Duane Starks. Although the team has extended an offer, Starks is expected to test the market.

If the Ravens can retain Starks, they can go with Gary Baxter and Anthony Mitchell as their safeties. If Starks goes elsewhere, the team could look to re-sign free-agent safety Corey Harris and move Baxter to cornerback. Since Baxter isn't as polished at cornerback, the Ravens may have to play more cover-two (a zone defense in which the safeties line up deep, dividing the field in half as insurance for the cornerbacks).

The Ravens' search for three starting defensive linemen is not as set. But they aren't extremely worried about filling those holes since linemen in a 3-4 defense essentially occupy blockers and allow linebackers to make plays.

The Ravens are hoping that they can re-sign Lional Dalton (an unrestricted free agent) to play nose tackle and Larry Webster (a salary cap cut) to play at one end. If Adams is too expensive to keep, the team can always fall back on reserves Kelly Gregg or Marques Douglas to be the other end.

"We would love to have Sam," Nolan said. "The better the player, the better you are. That goes without saying."

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