Ravens put 7-year lock on Boulware

Team's sack specialist agrees to deal worth estimated $42 million

`It's a big relief,' he says

$13.5 million bonus among highest for outside LB

September 07, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Two days before Peter Boulware was to enter the final year of his contract, the Ravens blocked the franchise sack leader.

Boulware confirmed last night that he has agreed to a seven-year deal with the team. According to a league source, the contract is worth $42 million and includes a $13.5 million signing bonus, which is believed to be one of the largest ever awarded an outside linebacker.

If a deal hadn't been reached, the two-time Pro Bowler could have been eligible for unrestricted free agency in the spring.

"It feels good to be a part of their long-term plans," said Boulware, 27. "I've always wanted to be here. I think we can build something good here."

It represents the second time in a month that the Ravens have reached a blockbuster deal with a linebacker. In July, the team signed inside linebacker Ray Lewis to a seven-year, $49.5 million contract that included a $19 million signing bonus.

By locking up Boulware, the Ravens finished off seven months of negotiations to secure their two best defensive players.

"This is very good for the organization," coach Brian Billick said. "This now gives a clear focus that Peter and Ray are the anchors for our defense for a long time to come."

Keeping Boulware together with Lewis stabilizes a defense that will have six first-time starters in the season opener against the Carolina Panthers tomorrow.

"That's kind of special," Boulware said. "We have played together for long time. Now, we know we'll play together even longer."

Boulware is the Ravens' all-time sack leader, recording 52 over his 80-game career. He led the AFC in sacks last year with a career-best 15.

The fourth pick overall in the 1997 draft, Boulware held out all of training camp that year, but dominated during the season to earn recognition as the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year.

In his five-year career, he has never had fewer than seven sacks in a season despite constant shoulder problems. In 1999, he finished with 10 sacks and forced three fumbles while playing with a dislocated shoulder that was supported in a harness.

Last year, a rash of injuries on the team's defensive front forced Boulware to move to defensive end, where he registered 9 1/2 sacks in six games despite being undersized for the position.

But the expectations are soaring this year for Boulware, with the Ravens switching to a 3-4 alignment. Having him rush off the edge full-time, he should be even more of a force.

Now, with a new deal in hand, he can focus entirely on the season.

"It's a big relief off my mind," Boulware said. "You try not to think about it, but it's always in the back of your mind. You think, `Is this my last year here or where am I going to end up?' To have a new contract takes a huge pressure off of me."

NOTES: Defensive back James Trapp was downgraded from doubtful to out with a chest injury. ... Art Modell was a regular at practice this week, but he'll miss the first opener of his 42 seasons as an NFL owner. Modell, 77, is recovering from a mild stroke he suffered earlier this summer.

Sun staff writer Paul McMullen contributed to this article.

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