Ravens' free-agent plans may hit a snag

Team needs to rework linebackers' deals, gain cap room for signings

Pro Football

May 29, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Three days from the start of the second free-agency wave, the Ravens are pessimistic about their chances of making an immediate splash in the market.

The Ravens likely would have interest in Detroit Lions running back James Stewart - an expected June salary cap casualty - but they won't have the cap room to pursue the seven-year veteran if they cannot restructure the contracts of linebackers Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware.

Negotiations date to February, so new deals for the linebackers aren't expected by Saturday, when 30 or so players from around the NFL likely will be released. June 1 has become a major cutdown date in the league because teams can delay much of the salary cap impact of big-money cuts until the following season by releasing a player on that day or later.

If the Ravens can lock up Lewis and Boulware to long-term deals, they could gain $5 million to $6 million of wiggle room under this year's salary cap to go after Stewart as well as try to re-sign defensive tackle Sam Adams and fullbacks Sam Gash and Obafemi Ayanbadejo.

The Ravens, though, are not willing to overextend themselves to speed up negotiations with their linebackers even if it means that they'll be locked out of the free-agent market in the meantime.

"That will not force us to make a bad deal," said Ozzie Newsome, senior vice president of football operations. "If the deals are not done, I realize where we are. I think they'll eventually happen, but there won't be any reaction from me."

Said coach Brian Billick: "I'm sure the agents are hoping that this can become a leverage point. It is not. We're prepared to go with what we've got right now. We'd like to go into the market, but it's not going to alter our stance on Peter and Ray a single dollar. That's where some of the frustration comes from. But we'll deal with that."

Although the sides have not talked since Thursday, there are offers on the table from both the Ravens and agents Eugene Parker and Roosevelt Barnes. Under their current contracts, Lewis is scheduled to earn $4.75 million in each of the final two years, and Boulware is expected to make $4.3 million in the last year of his deal.

The major snag to the deals appears to be the signing bonuses. The players are pointing to the deal given to Jonathan Ogden in 2000, when the Ravens signed the left tackle to a $16 million signing bonus.

In the players' eyes, the bonus was essentially $12 million, with his $4 million base salary rolled into that total. So, Lewis is suggesting that his base salary total for the next two years ($9.5 million) be added to a $12 million signing bonus, giving him more than $20 million upfront. Under that same thinking, Boulware may be looking for a bonus in the $12 million-$13 million range, which includes lumping in this year's $4.3 million base salary.

At this point, the Ravens aren't in that price range. But despite these differences in numbers and last week's spitting match between Billick and Barnes, the Ravens contend they'll sign their linebackers to new deals before the season.

"There is a great willingness on everybody's part to get a deal done," Newsome said. "I like the deals that we have on the table. There is always going to be a disagreement between what we think is fair and what the agents and players think is fair."

The logical June target for the Ravens is Stewart, 30, who is still in discussions with the Lions to rework his contract. With starting running back Jamal Lewis coming off season-ending knee surgery and top reserve Jason Brookins having been released, the team needs a back like Stewart who can grind out yards in a power-running attack. However, durability concerns make him more of a backup at this point.

Other players who could draw interest from the Ravens are receivers Keenan McCardell (Jaguars) and Poly graduate Antonio Freeman (Packers) since the team has only two wide-outs with NFL experience (Travis Taylor and Brandon Stokley). San Francisco 49ers guard Ray Brown, a 39-year-old run blocker, could be a stopgap player for the Ravens' offensive line, which desperately needs experienced depth.

"The problem is we can't do a thing until we restructure one of these contracts," Billick said. "The June 1st date means nothing if we can't get the contracts done. All it takes is one."

Comings, goings

June marks the second phase of free agency. During the first phase, the Ravens signed two free agents and lost 14 players to other teams.

Players signed

QB Jeff Blake (Saints)

CB James Trapp (re-signed)

Players lost

DT Lional Dalton (Broncos)

QB Elvis Grbac (released/retired)

SS Corey Harris (Lions)

WR Qadry Ismail (Colts)

LB Brad Jackson (Panthers)

WR Patrick Johnson (Jaguars)

RS Jermaine Lewis (Texans)

P Kyle Richardson (Vikings)

OT Leon Searcy (Dolphins)

TE Shannon Sharpe (Broncos)

LB Jamie Sharper (Texans)

DT Tony Siragusa (retired)

CB Duane Starks (Cardinals)

DT Larry Webster (Jets)

RB Moe Williams (Vikings)

FS Rod Woodson (Raiders)

Unsigned Ravens free agents

DT Sam Adams

RB Terry Allen

FB Obafemi Ayanbadejo

OG Orlando Bobo

RB Jason Brookins

DE Rob Burnett

QB Randall Cunningham

FB Sam Gash

LS Dale Hellestrae

K Danny Kight

FS Carnell Lake

OT Kipp Vickers

OT Sammy Williams

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