Ogden's deal is causing ripple effects throughout

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Now that pro basketball contracts have passed the $100 million barrier, pro football salaries pale by comparison.

Unlike NBA teams, NFL teams can't exceed the cap while signing their own players. So, Troy Aikman's $50 million deal is likely to stand as the sport's benchmark for the near future.

But there is one rookie contract that is raising eyebrows throughout the league -- Jonathan Ogden's seven-year deal with the Ravens. Although the total, which starts at $15.4 million and is likely to escalate to more than $20 million, wouldn't impress Shaquille O'Neal, it's the structure that has sparked controversy.

It features buybacks, voidable years and other bells and whistles that agents have used to get around the rookie salary cap for such quarterbacks as Drew Bledsoe, Rick Mirer, Heath Shuler and Trent Dilfer.

Because no quarterbacks were drafted high this year, the NFL thought it could avoid what one executive calls those "poison pills" this year. Kevin Hardy, the No. 2 pick, signed a straight six-year, $14.7 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars that didn't include any of them.

Ogden's deal, by contrast, could baffle an accountant. The short version is that the Ravens will kick another $825,000 into the $15.4 million deal at the start of the fourth season if they want to keep him for the fourth and fifth years, and then will give him the franchise number -- the average of the top five offensive linemen -- for the final three years if they keep him through the end of it.

That would make it about a $19.5 million contract under today's numbers. But since the franchise figure is sure to go up, it could easily wind up being a $21 million or $22 million deal.

On top of that, half the fifth year and the final two years could be guaranteed under certain circumstances, and most teams hate guaranteed contracts.

The NFL is said to be examining it closely, although agent Marvin Demoff is confident it would be upheld because most of the complicated clauses have been used in other contracts.

It could lead to long holdouts by Keyshawn Johnson, the first player picked by the New York Jets, and Simeon Rice, the third player picked by the Arizona Cardinals.

The first three players usually get more money than the fourth player picked, but the Jets and Cardinals are likely to balk at topping the Ogden deal. However, it's a bit late for the Jets to discover fiscal responsibility after an off-season spending spree.

Hardy is somewhat embarrassed because he signed his contract before Ogden and probably will wind up getting less than the Raven.

None of the NFL executives wanted to knock the Ravens on the record, but they were quick to point out the team had just cut Andre Rison for salary cap reasons and could get itself into another financial hole with such deals.

"That's why they had to move in the first place," said one executive who didn't want to be identified.

But David Modell, the son of owner Art Modell who negotiated with Demoff, said it's a good deal for the club. He said it gives the team several options at various points in the deal and avoided a holdout by the first player ever picked by the Ravens.

"We've had enough distractions," Modell said. "We didn't need a preseason marred by a prolonged holdout and acrimony."

He also said he didn't invent the voidability concept.

"I prefer vanilla deals, but this is the NFL world we live in," Modell said. "I'm sorry if other teams perceive we made their life more difficult, but I don't feel my team has done the earth-shattering deal of the century."

Price of fame

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin finally paid the price for being a celebrity last week.

Irvin has enjoyed many privileges over the years because of his special status. He likely thought he would not be convicted by a Dallas jury on a drug charge, and at first showed his disdain for the process by wearing a fur coat to court.

A topless dancer testified that Irvin strip-searched her and threatened her for testifying before a grand jury. Irvin told her he FTC was more powerful than the district attorney, she said.

The district attorney then showed Irvin just how powerful he could be. He turned what normally would have been a minor case into a full-scale production.

If he hadn't been Michael Irvin, it's unlikely he would have been indicted in the first place. The hotel employee who first called the police admitted he lied when he said there had been a complaint about noise in the room he was in. But a Dallas judge wasn't going to throw out this case and be accused of giving Irvin special treatment.

Instead, after Irvin accepted a plea bargain, the judge gave him 800 hours of community service (five months of 40-hour weeks) -- four times the normal amount.

There still were complaints he let him off easy by not jailing Irvin, although most first-time offenders get probation.

Now Irvin, who is visiting Miami and hasn't said when he'll rejoin the team, probably will be suspended four to six games by commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who'll then be criticized for not sitting him down the whole season, even though the league guidelines don't call for a first-time offender being suspended for a season.

It would be nice to think Irvin and the Cowboys might learn something from this experience, but it was business as usual when camp opened last week. Deion Sanders showed up in a custom-made, $30,000 air-conditioned golf cart.

In the Hall

When former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs is inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday, it's easy to guess that he'll give his usual self-deprecating speech and say he can't believe he's enshrined with all these greats.

It's likely to be similar to the speech he gave in 1982 when he wound up in the Super Bowl in his second year and talked about what an honor it was to be coaching against Don Shula.

He then went out and beat Shula's Miami Dolphins, 27-17.

The key to following Gibbs was to pay attention to what he did rather than what he said. The key was he won three titles with three different quarterbacks.

The last one, Mark Rypien, still is being low-balled in contract talks by the St. Louis Rams. This is the same Rypien who went 17-2 for Gibbs in 1991, but, at the age of 33, he's not in demand. Gibbs' players often weren't great, but they played great together.

Gibbs' only negative was that his round-the-clock style virtually ruined his health and forced him to retire after just 12 years. Gibbs was fortunate to find that being an auto racing owner satisfied his competitive juices and he was able to stay retired.

"A lot of people say they hated losing," Gibbs said recently. "I detested it."

He didn't do much of it and earned his spot in the Hall, even if he'll never admit it.

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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