Adams puts Raiders one tackle closer

January 22, 2003

SAN DIEGO - Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Sam Adams was trying his best to avoid the issue, but then a little smile came across that big, old face. Word has it that Adams, selected for the AFC Pro Bowl squad two of the past three seasons, wants to return to Baltimore.

"I'm at the Super Bowl. I'm here to win the Super Bowl for the Oakland Raiders," said Adams. "I can't speak on anything else right now."

Then comes the big, old grin.

"But after the Super Bowl, I'm a free agent," said Adams, 29, chuckling for a few seconds.

It would be a good deal for both Adams and the Ravens.

The Ravens need a presence in the middle of their line as both a run stopper and pass rusher, and Adams likes Baltimore because of head coach Brian Billick and line coach Rex Ryan.

During the season, Adams spent as much time talking to his former teammates as he did with the Raiders. During the recent holidays, Adams sent nearly everyone in the Ravens' front office a Christmas card.

Shoot, he even sent me one.

"You got to love him," Billick said. "There would be no reservations about bringing him back. He enjoyed his time here, and it's not coincidental that Oakland's defense got better once Sam got there. But again, it depends on the market and what the value is for him."

Heading into free agency, Adams seems certain to command a big contract. There aren't a lot of big-name tackles. If a team believes it is one tackle away from a Super Bowl, then Adams signs a big deal.

If the Ravens want to move up another level next season, then Adams is the player who puts them over the hump. Even if middle linebacker Ray Lewis had been healthy the entire season, the Ravens were probably no better than an average team because they still got better-than-average performances from inside linebackers Ed Hartwell and Bernardo Harris.

But they had too many holes and inconsistent play to establish a serious winning streak. But Adams on the inside would have had a serious impact. He would have shut down the run and collapsed the pocket while rushing. Teams would also have to game plan for him.

The most positive effect would have been on outside linebacker Peter Boulware, whose sack totals would have drastically increased just by having another threat on the field. Boulware had a great year, but had no one in the middle to register sacks once he forced the quarterback to step up in the pocket.

He also had no one in the middle who could force a quarterback outside to him.

"How many more sacks would Peter have had? Oh, my," Billick said. "It's all inner workings, just like it was with Tony [Siragusa] and Sam. It's a combination. Whatever the market, we would like to have Sam back. Fewer options usually work well for the player."

The Ravens tried to re-sign Adams to a multiyear deal during the offseason, and offered him a signing bonus between $2.5 million and $3 million. But Adams took a six-year deal with a $2 million signing bonus because the deal basically allowed him to become a free agent after one season. "Brian Billick did a good job defending himself telling everyone it was a one-year deal," Adams said. "Brian is a great guy, and he had to do what he had to do. It's all good, though, because I'm playing for a ring again."

But you can tell Adams isn't totally happy. This isn't the 2000 Ravens when Adams was one of the most destructive forces in the NFL. There have been reports that Adams reported to camp overweight (350 pounds), which made him a one-dimensional player for most of the season.

In Baltimore, Adams was an every-down player. Until last week against Tennessee, the Raiders had used him primarily to stop the run.

"I'm not playing my best ball," Adams said. "I'm effective and I get my job done. I'm getting better, but it's not my best. It's a collection of a lot of things, how they play, the system and so forth. My best football will be to come."

Adams, according to some people close to him, is not happy with line coach Mike Waufle, a no-nonsense type, who has little patience for Adams' moodiness. It's a major difference compared with the laid-back Ryan.

When asked to compare Waufle and Ryan, Adams said: "No comment."

Adams, though, has played extremely well in the postseason. And when he is on, he is in that upper level of tackles that include Tim Bowens, Bryant Young, Chester McGlockton and Tampa Bay's Warren Sapp.

There are some who say Sapp isn't as good as he used to be because he doesn't make as many tackles. Wrong. Here's a player that gets double-teamed every play, especially without injured linemate Anthony McFarland. Teams run away from Sapp, and they always know where he is on the field.

Adams is just as good.

"I love playing next to Sam," said Oakland defensive tackle John Parrella. "I've played with a couple of good ones over the years, but Sam is a load who plays hard. It takes two to move him. It is amazing how quick he is. When the guy gets in the huddle, it's time to go to work."

Adams sees very few similarities between the Ravens' Super Bowl defense and the Raiders'. Oakland has a veteran group that has taken over as part-time coaches.

The Ravens want to see the old Sam, the one with the lethal first step who caused so many problems because of constant penetration. Old Sam wants to see his old team because they knew how to handle him.

"If we were as young as last year, I'd be more worried about Sam's personality, but since this team went through that growth spurt last season, there won't be any problems," Billick said. "Handling personalities is part of the job, anyway. Oakland made a nice tradeoff. They got Sam for one year and they're in the Super Bowl. How can you not like a guy like that?"

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