Ravens lose again: Dalton a Bronco

4th player in two days to sign elsewhere gets seven-year, $22M deal

March 20, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

ORLANDO, Fla. - Before walking over to team president David Modell, owner Art Modell excused himself from a crowd of reporters and cracked what was intended to be a joke.

"This is a family question," Art Modell said to his son. "Who else did we lose?"

A few hours later, Modell received his answer. Lional Dalton, a four-year backup defensive tackle for the Ravens, signed a seven-year, $22 million contract, including a $3 million signing bonus, with the Denver Broncos yesterday.

In what has turned out to be a rough two days at this year's league meetings, the Ravens have lost four free agents to other teams. As a result, Ravens coach Brian Billick has been forced to reconsider his earlier prediction that the team would re-sign half of its 25 free agents.

"That number is going to change obviously," Billick said. "We were talking about observations in late February and early March on a market no one knew. It doesn't surprise me that we're not going to reach that number simply because we can't do anything until June. That's our limitation. Players are anxious to where they feel that they can't wait until then. I certainly understand that."

Billick said the Ravens could have given Dalton, cornerback Duane Starks and receiver Qadry Ismail all competitive deals in June. That's when the team is expected to free up more salary cap room by restructuring the contracts of linebackers Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware as well as defensive end Michael McCrary.

Receiver Patrick Johnson, who was inactive for the final 12 games of last season, is the Ravens' other free agent to go elsewhere during these meetings, signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday.

Until June the Ravens are unable to bid on free agents since they're only $1.1 million under the cap. The Ravens say they'll be strapped by the cap for only this season and could be as much as $15 million under next year.

"The guys we are asking to restructure are under no obligation to do so," Billick said. "No one should have to take a hit for the club financially. Their representation is doing the best job they can and they're not concerned with our overall team dynamic. They don't care that it cost us another player. I don't say that critically because it's not their job.

"Had any one of the three seen their way to do a deal that, quite honestly, we're going to end up doing anyway, it certainly would have helped. But I'm not going to hold that against them."

The wild card of this group is McCrary, whose release has been rumored for months. The Ravens still want to keep him but aren't willing to pay his $5.25 million salary.

McCrary must decide whether to take a pay cut or get cut on June 1. The Ravens believe that McCrary can make more money with them even if he takes a pay cut than he can in a stingy free-agent market come June.

At 6 feet 4 and 260 pounds, McCrary is smaller than the typical end in a 3-4 defense (three linemen and four linebackers), which the Ravens are implementing. In that scheme, defensive ends need to be bigger because they play more inside. The team could use him primarily as a pass-rushing specialist on the outside, which would help extend the 31-year-old's career.

"Mike will have a very definitive place on our defense and it would be foolish not to give him a platform to do what Michael McCrary does best," Billick said. "We're certainly not going to do anything strategically that would minimize the impact of a player like Michael McCrary."

Defensive line could be one of many trouble spots for the Ravens this season. The team has had to part with three starters - tackles Sam Adams (cut) and Tony Siragusa (retired) and end Rob Burnett (cut) - and now has lost its top reserve in Dalton.

An undrafted free agent out of Eastern Michigan in 1998, Dalton fit well in the Ravens' rotation at defensive tackle. With the Broncos, he'll get his long-awaited chance to prove he can be a full-time starter.

Dalton chose Denver over the Kansas City Chiefs, and his agent, Steve Weinberg, said the Ravens never entered the picture.

"I haven't gotten any calls from the Ravens," Weinberg said.

8 men out

Backup defensive tackle Lional Dalton signed a seven-year, $22 million deal yesterday to officially become the eighth Raven from last year's team who will play elsewhere next season:

Player, Pos. Team

Lional Dalton, DT Den.

Qadry Ismail, WR Ind.

Brad Jackson, LB Car.

Patrick Johnson, WR Jac.

Jermaine Lewis, WR Hou.

Leon Searcy, RT Mia.

Jamie Sharper, LB Hou.

Duane Starks, CB Ariz.

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