Lewis' agent backs off on finishing deal

Confident earlier, Barnes declares he's `not as optimistic'

Billick: `He's posturing again'

Structure seen as snag

source puts bonus at $21 million-$22 million

August 01, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Roosevelt Barnes pulled a reverse yesterday, but the Ravens are calling it a fake.

Barnes, the agent for Ray Lewis, said Tuesday that there was "a pretty good shot" the All-Pro linebacker's contract could be restructured. But yesterday, he left the team's training camp with no signed contract and a different tone.

"I'm a little bit disappointed that we couldn't get anything done," Barnes said. "But that's kind of how negotiations go. [On Tuesday] I felt pretty good. But today, I'm not as optimistic. I thought we were making some headway, but things started falling apart a little bit."

The Ravens, though, are not buying Barnes' change of direction.

According to a league source, the sides are nearing an agreement on an NFL-record signing bonus for Lewis ranging from $21 million to $22 million. The biggest snag is the structure of the contract, the source added.

"We've always been optimistic," coach Brian Billick said. "This thing is going to get done. He's posturing again. We're there."

The Ravens put all of their energy into the Lewis negotiations since talks have broken off with free safety Ed Reed, their first-round pick whose holdout has reached seven days.

Although the team and Reed's agent have agreed on a five-year, $6.2 million deal, they remain separated by $165,000 on the signing bonus and neither side has been willing to budge.

The Ravens were more focused on sealing Lewis' deal yesterday.

After meeting all afternoon with Barnes, senior vice president Ozzie Newsome and chief negotiator Pat Moriarty reinitiated talks with the agent following practice. The impromptu, hour-long conversation began on the practice field, continued up a flight of stairs and ended in the players' parking lot with nothing finalized.

Under Lewis' current contract, he is scheduled to earn $4.75 million in each of the final two years.

"We're still working," Newsome said.

The incentive for the Ravens is locking up Lewis long-term rather than gain immediate salary-cap space. By restructuring Lewis' contract, the team would only free up about $1 million in cap room, which would allow the signing of one veteran free agent to a near-minimum contract.

Ravens officials and Barnes are expected to meet again today at McDaniel College.

"I bought a one-way ticket," Barnes said. "I plan on staying until I get something resolved with all the guys. If, at some point in the next 28 to 48 hours we can't get anything done, then I'll just go back home."

The Ravens could create more cap room - between $3 million to $4 million - by reworking the contract of linebacker Peter Boulware because he has a larger cap number than Lewis ($6 million as compared to $4.5 million) and wouldn't be receiving as large of a signing bonus.

While a source confirmed that a signing bonus of $12 million has been discussed, the Ravens are not close to getting a deal done with Boulware, who is also represented by Barnes.

"You can only cover so much ground at one time," Billick said.

Boulware is entering the final year of his contract, and team officials said a month ago they would consider slapping the franchise tag on the reigning AFC sack leader if a new deal couldn't be reached.

By using that tag, the team can keep Boulware from becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2003 and only has to give a one-year deal equal to the average salary of the league's five highest-paid players at his position.

"I was hoping something got done, but if it's not exactly right, we're not going to take it," Boulware said. "It can't be almost there. It has to be there. I was disappointed. I thought it would be done, but they can take their time as long as it's done right."

Unlike last month's bitter exchanges between Billick and Barnes through the media, this week's contract talks have brought more punch lines than near-punches.

"I heard he doesn't have an agent anymore," said Barnes, who has yet to meet Billick. "Maybe I could get with him about that."

Billick, whose agent, Ray Anderson, recently became a vice president of the Atlanta Falcons, chuckled when told of Barnes' proposal.

"Tell him I don't pay as well as his other clients ... " Billick said. "But he's still not on my Christmas list."

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