Ravens Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said yesterday that he will test the free-agent market if the team does not re-sign him before the beginning of the 2000 season, the last year of his current contract.
Ravens vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome and Pat Moriarty, the team's vice president of administration, are expected to meet with Ogden's agent, Marvin Demoff, tomorrow at the Super Bowl in Atlanta, to begin contract discussions about Ogden, as well as Ravens starting quarterback Tony Banks, who also is represented by Demoff.
Banks will become an unrestricted free agent on Feb. 11. Demoff also represents Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe and Cincinnati running back Corey Dillon, two other potential free agents the Ravens might have interest in when the market opens 15 days from now.
Ogden is a primary concern. He was the first player ever drafted by the Ravens in 1996 out of UCLA, the fourth selection overall. He was recently selected for his third straight AFC Pro Bowl appearance and is generally considered one of the two best at his position in the game, along with Jacksonville's Tony Boselli.
Boselli and Cleveland right tackle Orlando Brown, a former Raven, are the two highest-paid offensive linemen in the NFL. Boselli, who had two years left on his contract, signed a four-year contract extension in March worth $26 million.
In February, Brown signed a six-year, $26 million contract. Ogden's present contract will have paid him nearly $15 million after the 2000 season, including a $6.8 million signing bonus as a rookie. Ogden was expected to talk with Demoff last night.
"Honestly, I don't know if they are going to get a deal done," said Ogden, by phone from his home in Las Vegas. "It could be tough, because the team wants to help improve the offense, and maybe they figure it's a good time to add those players now, and if we play well, I won't want to leave.
"But for me to play through the final year and not test the market wouldn't be a smart thing for me to do," said Ogden. "That doesn't mean I wouldn't come back to Baltimore, but it would be advantageous for me to find my worth on the open market."
The Ravens seem prepared to re-sign Ogden and began laying some of the groundwork last year. When the team stalemated in negotiations with defensive end Michael McCrary last summer, the Ravens were prepared to offer McCrary's deal to Ogden if McCrary rejected the final proposal. McCrary settled for a five-year extension that will earn him at least $38 million over the next six years and possibly as much as $42 million with incentives and bonuses.
"It is our intention to put every effort into re-signing the first player ever drafted by the Baltimore Ravens," said Newsome. "He is a big part of what we're trying to build in this city."
Ogden, 6 feet 8 and 335 pounds, quietly became one of the team's leaders last season. Nearly a year ago, Ogden showed some reservation about staying in Baltimore when the team failed to re-sign Brown and lineman Wally Williams.
But yesterday he said he wanted to remain in Baltimore and liked the new attitude brought in by rookie coach Brian Billick. The Ravens finished the year at 8-8, the team's first non-losing season since moving to Baltimore. The Ravens were in playoff contention until the final week of the season.
Ogden likes the idea of having two No. 1 draft picks, which could put the team's inconsistent offense on par with a defense that finished the season ranked No. 2.
"I love the city of Baltimore, and I like playing there," said Ogden. "I'm not saying that just to say it. There is a lot of potential with the team, a huge upside. If you take a look around the league, we're one of the few teams with great potential heading into the offseason.
"I liked what I saw in Brian," said Ogden. "He believes strongly in what he is doing, and that's all you can ask from a rookie head coach. He made his share of mis-takes, possibly learning how to designate things and relating to all the players. But regardless of how long you play, you still have to learn in your rookie season, and it's the same for a coach."
Ogden's contract prohibits the team from designating him the franchise player, which would force him to play for another season after his contract expires for the average salary of the top five players at his position. Newsome said yesterday that the Ravens wouldn't use the designation for any of the 19 potential unrestricted free agents currently on the roster.
Ogden wouldn't say if he thought he deserved to be the game's best-paid offensive lineman.
"I don't think I signed that first contract and gave them average performances," said Ogden. "I didn't perform under expectations. I think I have played well enough to merit a good deal."
When asked if he might take less money because the Ravens might be on the verge of being a playoff team, Ogden said: "A lot of scenarios have to be played out. How much less? I don't know. In all honesty, yes, but the circumstances have to be right."
The Ravens submitted their first proposal to Demoff for Banks yesterday. The offer is expected to be for one or two years and loaded with incentives that should pay Banks nearly $3 million a season. Banks started the Ravens' final 10 games after replacing Stoney Case. The Ravens were 6-4 under Banks, including a four-game winning streak. He finished the season completing 169 of 320 passes for 2,136 yards and 17 touchdowns.
The Ravens are getting closer to re-signing tackle-guard Everett Lindsay. Lindsay will move back to left guard next season, where he will battle second-year player Edwin Mulitalo for the starting spot.