Just no room for draft pick to be so picky about this deal

August 01, 2002|By MIKE PRESTON

IT'S UNDERSTANDABLE FOR Pro Bowl linebackers Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware to want new contracts. Lewis is perhaps the best player in the league, Boulware one of the top pass rushers.

Both have played in Pro Bowl games, and both were key members of the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl team. They have been loyal to the organization and should be rewarded.

But what's up with University of Miami safety Ed Reed, the Ravens' No. 1 draft pick? He hasn't played one down yet in the NFL and wants an additional $165,000 added to a $6.2 million contract offer to end a one-week holdout.

Here's my suggestion: Let him stay on the street until he comes to his senses and signs. Don't offer him one more stinking, rotten penny.

If he doesn't sign, the Ravens win four, five, maybe six games this season. If he does sign, the Ravens win four, five, maybe six games this season. There hasn't been so little leverage in a holdout since Ravens punter Kyle Richardson held out for about 17 hours two years ago.

Please, no laughing.

Lewis has led the team in tackles every year since 1996, and Boulware has averaged nine sacks since his rookie season in 1997. Reed? He doesn't even know all of the team's colors, yet he is holding out for mere chump change in the NFL.

The Ravens' top front-office personnel spent yesterday negotiating with Roosevelt Barnes, the agent for Boulware and Lewis. But there were no talks between Reed's agent, Jeff Moorad, and the Ravens yesterday. Negotiations have broken off, and both sides are waiting to see who blinks first.

The Ravens shouldn't budge.

They have offered Reed, the 24th pick overall, a five-year deal that fits in the slotting format used by the league for draft picks. Reed would make less than the 23rd pick, Oakland middle linebacker Napoleon Harris, and more than the 25th pick, New Orleans defensive end Charles Grant.

It's Math 101. But Moorad is a baseball agent trying to do a football contract. He needs to stick to the boys of summer and leave the football stuff for partner Leigh Steinberg. Maybe Moorad wants to recover some of Steinberg's business that has fallen off in recent years.

Instead, Reed is getting hurt. He has no leverage. This is basically a write-off season for the Ravens. It's not like they are one player way from winning a Super Bowl, and his name is Ed Reed.

Instead of watching Jerry Springer, Reed should be in camp learning the game.

"The problem is that some of these young players are intimidated by the agents," said one Ravens veteran. "When you're a rookie, it's all about being slotted. It's not rocket scientist stuff. He told everybody he was going to be in camp on time, but where is he?"

Lewis and Boulware are different matters. They have produced and are the cornerstones for possibly the next good Ravens teams in maybe three or four years. Their negotiations have dragged on for months, starting with the Ravens low-balling Lewis with a signing bonus offer of $12 million in April. What a joke.

As of late last week, the Ravens reportedly increased the offer to $21 million to $22 million, which should be enough. It was hard to tell in which direction the negotiations were going after yesterday. Barnes said talks were heading south. The Ravens remained optimistic and the two sides were still talking as of late last night.

They'll get a deal done. It's just a matter of structuring the contract. Regardless of present salary cap problems, there is always one player who has to make the big money because he is hard to replace. In Minnesota, it's Randy Moss. In Green Bay, it's Brett Favre. In Baltimore, it has to be Ray Lewis.

He is the heart and soul of the Ravens. Several veterans have increased their leadership roles in training camp this season, like offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and cornerback Chris McAlister, but this team belongs to Lewis, a favorite of owner Art Modell.

Just pay the man.

Boulware's deal may not get done as quickly. According to Barnes, the two sides are much further apart for Boulware than Lewis. According to a team source, the Ravens have increased their signing bonus offer to Boulware from $10 million to $12 million.

"If they are offering him that kind of money, he should take it," said the veteran player. "He is playing well, but has a history of shoulder problems and other injuries. That's a lot of money, and the market has been pretty dry this off-season. The next time around for another contract, he is going to be over 30, so I'd take it now."

Said Boulware: "I hope it gets done shortly. But if it's not exactly right, I'm not going to take it. It can't be almost there, it has to be there. I don't think it will affect our performance if it doesn't get done. We're professionals. But this is something you don't need to worry about every day. You feel better when it's behind you."

Re-signing Boulware and Lewis gives the Ravens hope for both the present and future. New contracts for both players would free up $4 million to $5 million in cap room, which might enable the Ravens to sign players such as defensive tackle Sam Adams, fullback Sam Gash and Green Bay receiver Antonio Freeman.

These players may not make the Ravens playoff contenders, but it pushes them closer to the .500 level, and anything can happen from there. Lewis and Boulware have some leverage in these negotiations, and they've earned that throughout the years.

All Reed has earned is the money offered by the Ravens, an equitable and pre-determined amount by the slotting system. His argument is not with the Ravens, but with the system.

And because of that, the Ravens shouldn't change their position.

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