Ex-Chief Spears joins Ravens

Club turns to free agency, gets help for offensive line

Pro Football

May 03, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

After bypassing offensive linemen in the draft, the Ravens found their prospective right tackle through free agency, signing former Kansas City Chief Marcus Spears to a four-year contract worth close to $4 million yesterday.

Spears, 30, is coming off the best season of his eight-year career. He started all 16 games, including 11 at right tackle, where he will be penciled in as the starter heading into training camp ahead of second-year player Jason Thomas.

A former second-round pick in the 1994 draft, Spears did what looks to be an about-face late Wednesday night after it appeared he had a deal in place with the Chiefs. Spears told The Kansas City Star earlier that day that he was close to re-signing with the Chiefs.

But it is thought the Ravens sweetened their deal later in the evening and told Spears he would be the starter at right tackle. Had Spears re-signed with Kansas City, he would have been a backup to John Tait. The Chiefs also acquired former Pro Bowl tackle Willie Roaf this off-season.

"[Spears] is a guy that we are very excited about," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' senior vice president of football operations. "We were unable to find a tackle in the draft, so we wanted to pursue that position through free agency. What we like about him is his versatility, because he can play guard and right tackle and he's athletic.

Spears, who visited the Ravens' complex in Owing Mills on Tuesday, said the overriding factor in his decision was the chance to start.

"Talking with Mr. Newsome, he was telling me that they want me to come in and be a starter right away," Spears said. "I had to weigh my odds.

"[Kansas City] moved John Tait to the right side, and that left me the odd man out. I was kind of disappointed in that. They couldn't give me a definite that I was going to be a starter. You can't go from a starter back to being a backup. To me, that wasn't acceptable."

Before last season, Spears, 6 feet 4 and 312 pounds, had started twice in 48 games for the Chicago Bears and Chiefs.

But after he won the starting left guard position, he was forced to switch to tackle after Victor Riley was injured.

"He's a tremendous athlete who, if given the opportunity to start over an extended period of time, could realize the potential he has had for his entire career," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Last year, he played very well. I'm very optimistic this is the right place at the right time for the right guy. He's a very fluid athlete and a good pass protector."

The Ravens still plan to bring in Cleveland Browns tackle Roman Oben, an unrestricted free agent, next week. Last year's right tackle combination of Kipp Vickers and Sammy Williams appears to be out of the equation for now.

"We'd like to sign another veteran offensive lineman," Newsome said.

Meanwhile, the Ravens have not given up hope that they can re-sign Pro Bowl defensive tackle Sam Adams. The team's highest-profile remaining free agent has drawn interest from the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans.

"I still think we have as good an opportunity to sign him as any of these other 31 clubs," Newsome said.

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