The Ravens released two prominent veteran players yesterday, star wide receiver Andre Rison and middle linebacker Pepper Johnson, to free up money under the league salary cap and sign their seven rookies as well as several free agents.
Rison and Johnson were released on a hectic day for the Ravens, who also agreed to one-year contracts with free-agent receivers Floyd Turner and Calvin Williams, and said they are within days of completing deals with free-agent linebackers Gerald Williams and Mike Croel.
Team vice president Ozzie Newsome also said the Ravens likely will waive veteran starting cornerback Don Griffin today and re-sign starting defensive tackle Tim Goad, an unrestricted free agent.
But none of the announcements was more stunning than the Ravens cutting All-Pro receiver Rison, whose salary would have counted $3 million against the league's $40.7 million salary cap this season.
The Ravens were only $79,000 under the cap, but only $1 million of Rison's salary will count now and Johnson's departure will save the team $850,000 this season. If the team cuts Griffin today, as expected, the team will save another $925,000 and will have about $3.8 million to sign its rookies and free agents, including first-round draft picks Jonathan Ogden, an offensive tackle from UCLA, and Ray Lewis, a linebacker from Miami.
Marvin Demoff, Ogden's agent, and team executive vice president David Modell were meeting last night in the second day of negotiations. Ravens officials are hoping to have both Ogden and Lewis signed by tonight.
"The last three years we have restructured deals and it's like getting merchandise on the credit card," said Newsome, whose team will have to face about $4.5 million against the 1997 cap because of the contracts of Griffin, Rison and Johnson. "Eventually, you're going to have to pay for it."
The Cleveland Browns signed Rison to a five-year, $17 million contract before the 1995 season, including a $5 million signing bonus, making Rison the highest-paid receiver in the NFL.
The Ravens tried to restructure Rison's contract last week, requesting to reduce his salary by $1 million but adding incentive bonuses based on the Ravens winning eight games and Rison's number of receptions.
But when Rison declined, the club decided he was expendable, especially after a 1995 season in which Rison finished third on the team in receptions with 47 in coach Bill Belichick's conservative, two-tight-end offense.
Rison, speaking from his home in Atlanta, said he was stunned by the Ravens' decision, especially after last season when he was the first player to defend owner Art Modell's move to Baltimore.
Rison was booed repeatedly at Cleveland home games, and received death threats from some irate fans. Rison said he thought Baltimore was going to be a fresh start, even throwing a party for the players to get acquainted with fans several months ago.
"I have been places where loyalty was not shown before, and where there was a lot of cut-throating during negotiations," said Rison. "But this came from a man I had respect for, and it shook me up for a minute. It's kind of ironic because I was the first to stand up and support him [Modell].
"This is the second straight city where I didn't get a chance to show people what I could do," said Rison. "I don't feel bad because I know this was a business decision, not one based on ability."
Modell said: "We made every attempt to restructure his contract. I can't let sentiment enter into a salary-cap scenario. We couldn't work out deals with Andre and Pepper in the confines of the salary cap."
Johnson didn't seem to fit into the philosophy of Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis despite leading the team in tackles the last two seasons. Johnson, 31, was more of a run stopper. Lewis prefers more athletic types like Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd, both of whom he coached with the Pittsburgh Steelers last season.
Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda denied that cutting Johnson had anything to do with his weight of 274 during a recent minicamp, only nine over his playing weight, or Johnson's missing days during the second week of that camp.
"Pepper will be welcomed back if things work out and we can restructure his contract," said Marchibroda. "We all know that Pepper can play football on Sundays, that he gets this team excited. It was a decision based on finances."
Johnson isn't sure about his future with the Ravens. According to Ravens team sources, the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers are interested in Johnson, and the Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars most likely will pursue Rison.
Rison has no plans to re-sign with Baltimore.
"I'm gone," he said. "I want to go to a place where they have a chance of winning the ring. Somebody is going to get a firecracker going 100 miles an hour every play."
"I'm shocked and surprised," said Kevin Granader, Johnson's agent. "I thought Pepper had a better year than his Pro Bowl season in 1994. But Mr. Modell is a great businessman, and I assume he has a plan. Maybe it's a youth movement or a change in philosophy, but Pepper apparently doesn't fit into those plans. I don't agree with the decision, but it's not mine to make. We'll keep our options open."
In somewhat of a surprise, Marchibroda said Lewis would be switched from outside linebacker and start in the middle for the Ravens over previous No. 2 Ed Sutter.
That leaves the Ravens with little depth at outside linebacker, a void they hope to fill today with the possible signings of Croel and Gerald Williams.
The move also puts a lot of pressure on the undersized Lewis (220 pounds) and possibly rookie cornerback DeRon Jenkins, who eventually will fill in for Griffin.
"We've always intended to use Ray Lewis, that he could be an instant starter," said Marchibroda. "I think he is going to give us a great effort, and become a big-play performer."
Turner, Calvin Williams and third-year player Derrick Alexander will battle for the spot vacated by Rison. Williams was cut by the Philadelphia Eagles two weeks ago, and Turner played for Marchibroda with the Indianapolis Colts the past two seasons.
"This will be good for me," said Williams, a former Dunbar High standout. "It is the ideal situation to play in front of the home crowd and get their support."
NOTES: The Ravens expect to open discussions with free-agent running back Gary Brown today. Brown is a priority after Croel and Williams. . . . The team had been trying to trade reserve offensive lineman Herman Arvie, but has changed directions after cutting Johnson and Rison. Several other teams have inquired about trying to work trades with Baltimore for defensive ends Anthony Pleasant and Rob Burnett, but the Ravens haven't been willing to deal.
Year Team .. .. ..Rec. .. ..Yds .. ..Avg. .. ..TD
1990 Eagles .. .. .37 .. ...602 .. .16.3 .. .. .9
1991 Eagles .. .. .33 .. ...326 .. ..9.9 .. .. .3
1992 Eagles .. .. .42 .. ...598 .. .14.2 .. .. .7
1993 Eagles .. .. .60 . .. .725 ....12.1 .. ...10
1994 Eagles .. .. .58 .. ...813 .. .14.0 .. .. .3
1995 Eagles .. .. .63 .. ...768 .. .12.1 .. .. .2
Totals .. .. .. ..293 .. .3,832 .. .13.0 .. ...34
Year Team .. .. ..Rec. .. ..Yds .. ..Avg. .. ..TD
1989 Saints .. .. .22 .. ...279 .. .12.7 .. .. .1
1990 Saints .. .. .21 .. ...396 .. .18.9 .. .. .4
1991 Saints .. .. .64 .. ...927 .. .14.5 .. .. .8
1992 Saints .. .. ..5 .. .. .43 .. ..8.6 .. .. .0
1993 Saints .. .. .12 .. ...163 .. .13.6 .. .. .1
1994 Colts .. .. ..52 .. ...593 .. .11.4 .. .. .6
1995 Colts .. .. ..30 .. ...431 .. .14.3 .. .. .4
Totals .. .. .. ..206 .. .2,832 .. .13.7 .. ...24
1996 salary: $850,000
1996 against the cap: $1.20 million (included $2.2 million bonus prorated over five years)
1996 cap savings: $850,000
Down the road: Ravens will be charged $1.32 million against the cap for 1997 for final three years of prorated bonus.
1996 salary: $2 million
1996 against the cap: $3 million (includes $5 million bonus prorated over five years)
1996 cap savings: $2 million
Down the road: Ravens will be charged $3 million against the cap for 1997 for final three years of prorated bonus.
Pub Date: 7/10/96