Ravens may find Starks out of reach

Grbac's cap number hinders team's effort to re-sign cornerback

Billick: `It hurt us clearly'

Former quarterback counts $4 million against team's cap

March 06, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Elvis has left the building. Unfortunately for the Ravens, his cap number has not.

Ravens coach Brian Billick said yesterday that the Ravens are limited in their attempt to re-sign free-agent cornerback Duane Starks because quarterback Elvis Grbac refused to agree to a $5 million pay cut last week.

Although released by the Ravens on Friday, Grbac will still count $4 million against the Ravens' 2002 salary cap, which is the remaining pro-rated portion of a $5 million signing bonus on a five-year contract. The Ravens, who are $1.1 million under the cap, were asking Grbac to take a substantial pay cut to free about $2 million in cap room.

Since Grbac declined to take the pay reduction, the cap-strapped Ravens are handcuffed in luring back Starks - their off-season priority - or any other free agent.

"Elvis' situation was the first real option we had to give ourselves some room to be aggressive with Duane," Billick said. "We've got some other options now that we can hope to push along. But it hurt us clearly."

Starks, however, wants to sign with a team by the middle of next week.

"The Ravens are waiting for someone else to make me an offer before they decide exactly what they want to do," Starks said last night from Tempe, Ariz., where he is visiting the Arizona Cardinals. "I'm just waiting. I understand what the Ravens are going through. But I'm quite sure they can work around that. I know it. They know it."

Considered the top cornerback on the free-agent market, Starks is scheduled to meet with the Detroit Lions tomorrow. The Cardinals are $15 million under the cap, and the Lions are $3 million under.

The Oakland Raiders are also talking with Starks since cornerback Eric Allen may be retiring, but Starks said no visit has been planned there yet.

The Ravens could go after Starks over the next couple of weeks if they can restructure some existing contracts to free up cap space. The team has only three starters from last year's defense currently on its roster.

"I talked with [Starks' agent] Drew Rosenhaus at the combine, and he knows that our hands are tied somewhat," Billick said. "He certainly understands that and has no predisposition to push him elsewhere. But he's going to have to do what is in his client's best interest if someone comes along and jumps up with some numbers."

Starks, 27, was a first-round draft pick by the Ravens in 1998. At 5 feet 10, 179 pounds, he doesn't have ideal size, but he makes plays.

His 20 interceptions in 63 regular-season games are tied with Rod Woodson for the most all time in Ravens history. Starks has picked off four passes in six playoff games, including running one back 49 yards for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXV.

Starks had an up-and-down season last year, but he settled down and finished strong. Although he was criticized for giving up too many big plays last season, some of his teammates have said Starks was hindered by a lack of communication from safeties Woodson and Corey Harris.

"I'm looking to stay in Baltimore," Starks said. "But right now, it's about business. If the Ravens really want me, they have to make me an offer that makes sense."

NOTES: When asked about Grbac's retirement, Billick wished him well. "I think the experience in Kansas City and here may have very well taken a toll," he said. "I know fans and media don't think of it this way, but you can wear a soul out. Particularly, when you've got a priority system and have other things going on in his life, there is a part of you that has to say, 'Why would I expose myself to that again?' ". ...

Free-agent defensive tackle Lional Dalton, a backup for the Ravens last season, is scheduled to visit the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos. He was expected to meet with the Cleveland Browns yesterday. "Obviously, if they [the Ravens] want to jump into the picture, they know my phone number," said Steve Weinberg, Dalton's agent. ...

Kyle Richardson, the Ravens' punter for the past four years, is visiting the Minnesota Vikings tomorrow. The Washington Redskins have expressed interest in Harris, the Ravens' starting strong safety last season who is a free agent. ...

Despite constant media speculation, the Ravens are not looking to trade for the New England Patriots' demoted quarterback Drew Bledsoe. The Ravens are not willing to trade any draft picks since it's vital to their rebuilding plans. "It doesn't fit," Billick said. "You have to use common sense here at some point. We have had no discussions about Drew Bledsoe."

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