The agent for the Ravens' Andre Rison said yesterday that the star wide receiver has rejected the team's request to lower his salary by $1 million and add incentive clauses, and that a decision on Rison's status with the team would be made by early next week.
A team official who requested anonymity also said the Ravens are seriously thinking about releasing veteran linebacker Pepper Johnson, 31, who led the team in tackles last season with 195.
Both Rison and Johnson could be casualties of the Ravens' attempt to free up money under the league's salary cap. The Ravens are only $79,000 under the cap, and need at least $3 million to sign their seven rookies, including No. 1 draft picks Jonathan Ogden, the UCLA offensive tackle, and University of ++ Miami linebacker Ray Lewis.
Rison's salary would count $3 million against the cap this season. Johnson will make $1.3 million.
"It's not a matter of finances or choice, but the system we have to deal with," said Ravens owner Art Modell. "Making tough decisions on veteran players is happening all over the league. Look at the Giants cutting Doug Riesenberg and Herschel Walker. We need money available for the rookies, but I assure you nothing is final yet."
Modell conferred three times with Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel, yesterday on the phone about ways to reduce contracts of several veteran players.
Rison, one of the team's few marquee names, signed a five-year, $17 million contract with the Cleveland Browns before the 1994 season, including a $5 million signing bonus, a deal that made him the highest-paid receiver in pro football.
Newsome did not return phone calls yesterday. But according to Rison's agent, Charles Tucker, the Ravens now want Rison to take a $1 million pay cut, and offered him two incentives to regain the money.
Tucker said the incentives would have been based on whether the Ravens win eight games, and the number of receptions by Rison. Rison had only 47 catches for 701 yards and three touchdowns last season, but his role is expected to expand in coach Ted Marchibroda's wide-open offense.
"Our decision right now is we won't allow them to adjust Andre's salary unless it's guaranteed money," said Tucker. "Right now we have a contract and all the money is guaranteed.
"There are ways to work this out, but their first suggestion was not a smart one," said Tucker. "I wouldn't take those incentives if Dan Marino was the quarterback. Ozzie said he had to talk with Art and he would get back to me. The ball is in their court."
The Ravens could gamble and cut Rison, and try to force him to re-sign a reduced contract if he can't get a better deal on the open market. Even if Rison were released, $1 million of his salary would count against this season's salary cap, and $3 million for next year.
But Tucker advises the Ravens not to take the gamble.
"Once they cut him, then the ball is in our court," said Tucker. "I think Andre could get an offer in a short time. Even if it's not as big as the offer to play in Baltimore, I don't think Andre would come back."
Rison said recently: "I want to play in Baltimore and have looked forward to playing there. I love the city. But I'm not going to worry about getting cut. I'll play somewhere. I'll do my end zone dance in the CFL if I have to."
Rison's value may have dropped a little when the Ravens started showing interest in wide receiver Calvin Williams, a Baltimore native who was cut by the Philadelphia Eagles last week. The Ravens also like Indianapolis Colts unrestricted free-agent receiver Floyd Turner, who played for Marchibroda two years with the Colts.
It's no secret that Rison struggled with Browns coach Bill Belichick's offense a year ago, and might have similar problems with Marchibroda's new offense -- as opposed to Turner, who could step in right away.
A team official said Johnson has been willing to restructure his contract, but he still may be released. Johnson has played in the VTC league for 10 years. There is speculation Johnson could end up with the New England Patriots with his two former New York Giants coaches, Bill Parcells and Belichick, who are the Patriots' head and assistant head coaches, respectively.
Pub Date: 7/04/96