Last year, the Ravens had the No. 4 pick and selected Jonathan Ogden, an offensive lineman out of UCLA who received a $6.8 million signing bonus. The Ravens also selected University of Miami linebacker Ray Lewis in the first round, but as the 26th pick, Lewis' signing bonus was $1.3 million.
The top five to six players chosen usually receive a $6 million signing bonus while those in the seven to 10 slots sign for around $3.5 million. The bonus drops to about $1.8 million from the 11th to 20th slots.
If the Ravens (4-11) drop down, they could bargain for two picks in the first or early rounds, or could use some of the money saved to sign a free agent.
"We have not truly discussed that situation as an organization yet because we don't know what number we're picking at and who might be available in that spot," said Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel.
But the Ravens are in a financial crunch. Nearly $5.1 million will count against the cap next season from the salaries of departed players Andre Rison, Pepper Johnson, Don Griffin and Leroy Hoard. The team won't get much financial relief until 1998 when the new stadium opens and a new television contract is signed by the league.
"Actually, we're in a better situation to restructure some deals because that cap money is already paid out," said Newsome, "but I don't think we're going to be getting into a lot of serious negotiations with big-name free agents. We'll be very selective."
The Ravens, who will hold meetings in the second week of January to re-evaluate their talent, already have reached a basic consensus that they need defensive help, especially with the club allowing 369.2 yards per game. The primary need will be to improve the pass rush, but the Ravens have to determine if it will come from the outside with a linebacker, or the inside with a defensive lineman.
The answer will come once the Ravens decide the scheme, either a 3-4 or 4-3. Either way, the Ravens need a linebacker to complement inside linebackers Lewis and Mike Caldwell. Also, the Ravens could use a cornerback.
"It seems ridiculous at this point of the year not to know your scheme, but because of injuries we've had to switch back and forth between a 3-4 and 4-3," said Ravens owner Art Modell. "Once we get that settled, we'll find people who adapt to our philosophy."
Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said: "We have to improve through the draft. We're good enough on offense, we're good enough on special teams, but we need some work on defense.
"And if a lot of our defensive people had not been injured this season, who knows where we would have been? One area we did not show improvement coming out of training camp was at linebacker, except that we got one year under our belts."
Offensively, the Ravens have few concerns. They are averaging 356.4 yards a game, and their offensive line is one of the best and most physical in the league.
Quarterback Vinny Testaverde will be coming off a Pro Bowl season, receivers Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander have had career years and Bam Morris, who has 656 yards despite a late start, seems like the running back of the future.
But according to Marchibroda, the Ravens would like to complement Morris' power with a speedy back. The Ravens also have to re-sign center Steve Everitt, the team's transition player, and Newsome probably will try to restructure Jackson's contract.
Jackson's contract doesn't expire until after the 1997 season, but his base salary nearly doubles to $2.5 million next season.
Also, the Ravens have to make decisions on 11 unrestricted and 12 restricted free agents by Feb. 15 or they can be exposed to other teams.
Receiver Floyd Turner, defensive end Anthony Pleasant, safety Stevon Moore, guard Jeff Blackshear and Caldwell are the most prominent unrestricted free agents.
Overall, Newsome and Marchibroda said they were pleased with last April's draft. Ogden probably will become one of the league's best linemen and a year in the weight room will give Lewis more strength to take on blockers.
Rookie cornerback DeRon Jenkins showed some improvement and rookie receiver and kick returner Jermaine Lewis has shown promise late in the season.
Several free agents such as Morris, Turner, punter Greg Montgomery, defensive tackle James Jones and Blackshear, obtained in a trade, made an immediate impact, according to Newsome.
"But am I happy with them overall? No," said Newsome. "We didn't win enough games.
"That's when you know how well they played. They may have played well in one position, but not throughout the whole team."
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Houston Oilers
Site: Memorial Stadium
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Line: Ravens by 3
Ravens free agents
Ravens have until Feb. 15 to tender offers or these players become unrestricted free agents, according to Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel:
S Vashone Adams, CB Dorian Brew, CB Donny Brady, LB Sedric Clark, LB Dexter Daniels, CB Corey Dowden, DT Elliott Fortune, G Sale Isaia, DE Rick Lyle, C Quentin Neujahr, QB Scott Otis, TE Frank Hartley.
Ravens can negotiate with these players until Feb. 15, when they become unrestricted free agents:
G Jeff Blackshear, LB Mike Caldwell, LB Mike Croel, LB Keith Goganious, LB Jerrol Williams, LB Eddie Sutter, TE Eric Green, S Stevon Moore, FB Carwell Gardner, WR Floyd Turner, DE Anthony Pleasant.
Pub Date: 12/17/96