Team not yet ready to make Starks bid

RAVENS NOTEBOOK

Billick says more room needed under salary cap

Pro Football

March 13, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

If free-agent cornerback Duane Starks receives an offer from another team this week, the Ravens are not in position to retain him, coach Brian Billick said yesterday.

The Ravens have named Starks as their top priority but they have not freed up enough salary cap room to make a bid for him now. The team is reportedly $1.1 million under the cap.

The Oakland Raiders are inching closer to making an offer to Starks, and the Arizona Cardinals have targeted him as their No. 1 choice in free agency. The Raiders have a wide advantage in tradition, and the Cardinals have the fiscal edge of being $12.5 million under the cap.

Considered the top cornerback in this year's free-agent market, Starks said recently that he would like to sign with a team by this week. But the Ravens don't foresee signing him until June.

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.

"There's nothing that we can do," Billick said. "We made it very, very clear to them and they understand. We want Duane. We're making every effort. [Ravens director of football administration] Pat Moriarty and [Starks' agent] Drew Rosenhaus are putting a structure in place that will be as good and competitive with anything out there.

"We'd very much like Duane to stay, but I understand that they don't feel like they can wait."

Talking new deals

The Ravens are trying to create cap room immediately by restructuring as well as extending the contracts of linebackers Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware. Lewis has two years remaining on his contract, and Boulware is entering the final year of his deal.

By restructuring, the team would lower the cap impact by dropping a player's base salary and giving him upfront bonus money, which is prorated over a longer contract.

"These are two players that we very much know are in our plans that could be in a position to help us with the difficulty we're in right now to free some room up," Billick said. "They are usually willing to do it, but there again you're dealing with other agents. Everybody's schedule is a little bit different. We would like to accelerate that, but they're in no obligation to do so."

As previously reported, Lewis has opened contract discussions wanting a seven-year deal worth $100 million and including a signing bonus of $30 million.

Return to Westminster

Although there is no signed deal yet, the Ravens expect to open training camp at Western Maryland College for the sixth straight year. Last summer's camp concluded a five-year contract.

The Ravens are tentatively scheduled to begin training camp on July 28.

"We feel pretty good about Western Maryland College and we're just working out some final details now," said Bob Eller, the Ravens' director of operations.

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