Holdout a blown opportunity to catch on

On the Ravens

August 07, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

EVERY DAY during the past week, Ravens rookie wide receiver Mark Clayton woke up in the morning with his palms sweating. He wanted to catch footballs that badly.

Clayton should have been on the field at M&T Bank Stadium yesterday. It should have been his stage, along with veteran receiver Derrick Mason and cornerback Samari Rolle, all top new additions for the Ravens in 2005. Instead, Clayton greeted the media for about 10 minutes, and then he disappeared again.

He'll show up tomorrow morning at McDaniel College for training camp, a week late, but happy after agreeing to a five-year, $8.2 million contract.

But he didn't have to be a no-show. Clayton was just a pawn in a game played by his agents. The framework on this deal was agreed to by both sides long ago, but his agents, Jim Steiner and Ben Dogra, wanted escalator and incentive clauses.

Those incentives are likely unattainable, but they blow up the final contract numbers. That makes the agents look good. It's a good selling point for them to sign naive, young talented college players like Clayton next year who really don't have a clue but believe in their agents.

"It wasn't about me asking for more money. That was not the issue," said Clayton, the Ravens' top pick in April when he was selected No. 22 overall. "I hire my agent. He's a great guy. He's been doing it for more than 20 years, so I trust him. He just wanted to work out the best deal in my interest."

No, he didn't. He wanted to make the best deal in his own interest. Clayton wasted valuable time. He might put up decent numbers one day, but probably not in this offense, which will feature running back Jamal Lewis, and has two proven Pro Bowl receivers in Mason and tight end Todd Heap.

He'll have no problems picking up the offense, but he should have been out on the field trying to get off a jam at the line of scrimmage by Chris McAlister, or seeing how it feels trying to run by a Samari Rolle or Deion Sanders.

He needed to watch Mason run routes, and get the splits and timing down on different routes. With safety Ed Reed, this secondary is loaded and the experience would have been invaluable.

Instead, Clayton held out for a week. He worked out regularly, studied the playbook and had friends of Boller throw passes to him.

He gained a little in the end, but lost a lot. He'll always be behind now. Because of a previous hamstring injury, and a missed week of practice, the Ravens will have to be cautious in getting him ready for the season. They can't push too hard because that might be disastrous.

You could understand Clayton holding out if he were drafted in the same position of an Eli Manning, Carson Palmer or somewhere in the top 10. In that position, you can make demands.

But not at No. 22. The system dictates the big money will come during the next contract if you prove you're great.

Clayton's contract was a no-brainer because of the unofficial slotting policy in the NFL. The player drafted before him at No. 21, receiver Matt Jones, signed a five-year, $8.45 million contract and the player behind him at No. 23, cornerback Fabian Washington, got a five-year, $7.8 million contract from Oakland.

So, it was easy math. Clayton should have gotten a five-year, $8.12 million contract offer from the Ravens.

It wasn't going to be much difference one way or the other. It's easy to understand the Ravens' position on escalator and incentive clauses.

For the Ravens to give in, they would become chumps for future rookies, much like they did when David Modell virtually gave away the franchise to offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden when he was the No. 4 overall pick in 1996.

You could also easily understand coach Brian Billick's frustration. Clayton could become another target in an offense that could become loaded with weapons.

He didn't want the prized rookie falling too far behind.

"The hamstring feels great and the re-acclimation is just taking it one day at a time," said Clayton. "Obviously, I'm a week behind the guys, so I have to come in and go at my pace. I can't catch up for a whole week in one day. I'm just going to come in and do it one day at a time."

That's the hitch that has everybody concerned. He's a rookie, and he'll probably press. If he does re-injure the hamstring, he'll be inclined to keep practicing instead of telling team officials.

Clayton might one day become a great player. He had 221 receptions, 3,241 receiving yards and 31 touchdowns in his career at Oklahoma. Various scouting publications had him as the best and most precise route runner in the college game last season.

This offense has the opportunity to be explosive, possibly something special if Boller and Clayton develop.

Clayton still has four preseason games to work himself into playing shape, but it would have been great to watch him play yesterday. Instead, we only got a 10-minute glimpse of him in street clothes because the interest of two agents outweighed those of their client and his team.

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