Ravens want linebackers for long haul

Team rejects short-term R. Lewis, Boulware deals

Franchise tag a sticking point

Billick: Legitimate deals for 5 and 6 years on table

Pro Football

July 03, 2002|By Brent Jones and Mike Preston | Brent Jones and Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

The Ravens have decided to focus entirely on signing Pro Bowl linebackers Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware to extensive multi-year deals rather than short-term contracts that would create immediate salary cap relief.

According to a league source, the Ravens have had a chance to sign Boulware, a fifth-year veteran, to a restructured contract that would have paid him his salary of $4.5 million for the coming season. But instead of having the money paid over a 16-game schedule, Boulware would have received $4 million in a signing bonus and $500,000 in base salary.

The salary cap-strapped Ravens would have received $4 million in immediate cap relief, which would have allowed them to sign several veteran players to their relatively inexperienced roster. But Boulware's agents, Roosevelt Barnes and Eugene Parker, wanted the team not to put the franchise player designation on Boulware after the 2002 season if the deal was restructured.

According to the source, if an agreement had been reached for five or six years, it would have been voided after one year.

"They could have put in numbers like Peter making $10 million in year two or making $15 million in year three, outrageous salaries that would have forced them to cut him after the upcoming season, or they could have voided the deal by putting in some ridiculous clauses based on playing time, anything," said the source. "But this would allow them to sign some players, and forced both sides back to the negotiating table after the season."

A Ravens team official said the team was not willing to part with the franchise designation that gives the team leverage and the right to keep the player around for another season. Boulware has one year remaining on his contract, while Lewis has two. If the Ravens designate Boulware the franchise player, they would have to pay him the average salary of the top five players at his position in the league next season (about $4.5 million), but it would also keep the former Florida State star off the free-agent market for the 2003 season.

The Ravens, though, have declined the restructure offer and are also staying clear of any similar short-team deals for Lewis. Lewis led the team in tackles for the sixth straight year, and was named to the AFC Pro Bowl squad for the fifth straight time after last season. Boulware led the AFC in sacks with 15, and has been to the Pro Bowl twice in his career.

"The offer is a viable thing if we wanted to take the short-term approach, something we could have well been tempted to do before June 1," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "But for the course we've committed to, it wouldn't make sense to go back on it now. We're now past midstream, so to speak, and we've already paid the price by not being able to get back some of our players we had hoped to re-sign, and being shut out in the free-agent market.

"We're going to take our hits this year, develop our players, but beginning with 2003, watch out. They are not long-term bogus deals we have on the table with those players, deals where the last four years don't mean a thing. They are legitimate deals, on their part as well as ours, where the numbers jibe. If the deals get done, Peter and Ray could finish their careers here. They are legitimate five- and six-year deals. We have to pay for them, and we are willing to do it."

The Ravens and Lewis have basically agreed on much of the contract except the signing bonus, Billick said. Lewis initially wanted a seven-year deal worth $100 million, including a $30 million signing bonus. The Ravens' first offer included a $12 million signing bonus.

Lewis' agents are asking for a signing bonus of about $21 million, which would include the salaries of the final two years of his current contract. The Ravens made that concession to Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden two years ago, but aren't willing to do it again for Lewis, the team's best player.

"The biggest frustration for me is that the basic aspects of the deal have been agreed to by both sides," said Billick. "They're both good deals, both long-term. I think they [the agents] may have underestimated us a little bit, and legitimately so, about just how committed we are to building for 2003 and the future."

Barnes would not talk about specifics, but only said he has had two offers on the table for months for both Lewis and Boulware. Lewis has restructured his deal the past two seasons to provide the team with immediate cap relief.

Ravens officials have set an unofficial training camp deadline (July 26) for the deals to get restructured.

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