R. Lewis' dollars make sense to defensive stars

ON THE NFL

Pro Football

August 11, 2002|By Ken Murray

When the Ravens rewarded Ray Lewis with a landmark $19 million signing bonus this summer, it sent alternate ripples of joy and angst coursing through the NFL.

Joy? That was for players like the Chicago Bears' Brian Urlacher, widely regarded as the second-best middle linebacker in the game after Lewis, and the Tennessee Titans' Jevon Kearse, who expects a new contract after the 2002 season.

The angst was reserved for general managers Jerry Angelo (Bears) and Floyd Reese (Titans), who must negotiate new contracts with their defensive stars under the shadow of Lewis' seven-year, $50 million deal.

Urlacher has three years left on a contract that paid him a $5.5 million signing bonus as a rookie in 2000. The Bears likely will rework his contract next off-season. They could hold him for four years without a new agreement by applying the franchise tag. But Angelo would prefer not to use it.

"He's a special case, and I think everybody understands that," Angelo said. "They [the Ravens] did something out of the box, but that's the bar he's going to use when you talk to him."

The Titans have told Kearse they will re-do his contract after this season, when it has one year to run. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, set the tone for renegotiations by comparing the three-time Pro Bowl defensive end to Lewis, saying they're "the same kind of superstars."

Predictably, Reese assumed a defensive posture. "I'm just not sure how many people fit in [Lewis'] category," he said. "[Lewis] has been defensive MVP of the league and led his team to a Super Bowl win."

Still, Lewis' deal is the new target.

"He definitely deserves it," Urlacher said of Lewis' riches. "Obviously, it's good for me, too. Hopefully when it's my turn to get re-signed, I can get somewhere around those numbers."

The Maryland connection

Shaun Hill's improbable success story is about to add another intriguing chapter. Signed as a free agent after the draft, the former Maryland standout is running slightly ahead of veteran Spergon Wynn for the third quarterback job with the Minnesota Vikings, behind Daunte Culpepper and Todd Bouman.

"I think Shaun is doing a good job," said Vikings rookie coach Mike Tice, also a former Maryland quarterback. "My concern was whether or not he could throw the deep ball. He has shown me that he can. He had two nice throws [Monday] down the field. And when you look at the chart of explosive throws by the quarterback position, he is starting to get some of those throws."

In an intra-squad scrimmage on Wednesday, Hill drove the third-team offense 53 yards in six plays against the Vikings' first-team defense, completing passes of 27 and 9 yards. But the series ended when he telegraphed a fade route and was intercepted by safety Willie Offord.

Ready, willing and able

The St. Louis Rams lost free-agent wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim in the off-season but recovered nicely by trading a sixth-round pick for Terrence Wilkins of the Indianapolis Colts. Wilkins might even turn out to be an upgrade.

He averaged 40 catches for 489 yards in three seasons with the Colts. He has nearly a third fewer career fumbles (eight) than Hakim (22), despite getting more touches, and is a stronger runner after the catch. Like Hakim, Wilkins was an option quarterback in high school (at Arlington, Va.). He'll probably return punts for the Rams and figures to be a key player in the team's bag of trick plays.

"I think I've probably learned more here in this little bit of time than I did all the three years I was at Indy," Wilkins said. "All I can do is get better."

No reinforcements

Defensive tackle Hollis Thomas broke the same bone in his right foot for the second time since January and is likely lost for the season, leaving the Philadelphia Eagles dangerously thin in the line.

Despite enough salary cap space to make a significant signing, they're not interested in Pro Bowl selection Sam Adams, a free agent who played the last two years with the Ravens. That could be a mistake that keeps them from reaching the Super Bowl.

For now, coach Andy Reid will promote little-used Darwin Walker at Thomas' spot and rotate in veterans Paul Grasmanis and Brandon Whiting. Why not Adams? Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson was in Seattle when Adams played there and apparently that was enough.

Stopping Favre

The best way to stop Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre? Last season, it was to sit back in coverage. Of his 22 interceptions, including the playoffs, 19 came against three- and four-man rushes.

"His quarterback rating was No. 1 [in the NFL] against pressures of five or more people," said Packers offensive coordinator Tom Rossley. "The shotgun [formation] helped our backs in blocking in a lot of blitz situations."

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