In moves to curb previous years of overspending, the Ravens withdrew center Steve Everitt's transition player status yesterday and declined to pick up the option on receiver Michael Jackson's contract, allowing both starters to become unrestricted free agents.
The moves were prompted by a deadline tomorrow when the club would have been locked into mandatory salaries for both players. Now Everitt and Jackson will be allowed to negotiate with other teams beginning tomorrow, but the Ravens can still negotiate with them.
Jackson's option year would have paid him a base salary of $2.5 million. If the Ravens had failed to re-sign Everitt by tomorrow, the club would have automatically had to tender him a one-year offer of $2.8 million, which is the average salary of the league's 10 highest-paid offensive linemen.
A league source also said last night that Ravens left offensive tackle Tony Jones was in Denver yesterday for a physical and had agreed to a four-year contract with the Broncos, completing the trade that would give the Ravens Denver's second-round pick in this year's NFL draft.
"These are moves made out of [salary] cap concerns," said Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel. "Our past problems have been documented over the past couple of weeks, especially with the fact that we have $5.3 million against our salary cap with players who are no longer on our roster. It's a universal problem in the league, one that we're dealing with directly now."
Ravens owner Art Modell said his team will not be "watered down" for 1997 even though the club reportedly is shopping safety Eric Turner and his $3.9 million 1997 salary, as well as
defensive tackle Dan Footman, who is expected to make $1.7 million.
Modell said the Ravens still have a good opportunity to sign Jackson and Everitt, who initially had sought a five-year contract worth $15 million.
"Our priority is to sign Michael and Steve, and hopefully we can get that done soon," Modell said. "We didn't get their contracts done when we had exclusive rights to negotiate with them. We tried and we're continuing to negotiate to get these standout players back with the Ravens."
As for Everitt, the Ravens believed there was some movement in negotiations during recent days, but not enough to finish the deal in a day.
Philadelphia, Buffalo and the New York Jets, who have former Cleveland coach Bill Belichick as their new defensive coordinator, are looking for centers.
Everitt's agent, John Macik, did not return calls yesterday. Everitt also was unavailable to comment.
The Ravens had offered Everitt an initial five-year contract worth $9 million, which included a signing bonus of $2.5 million and yearly salaries worth almost $1.8 million, slightly less than the average salary for the league's top 20 centers. Everitt also would collect about 60 percent of the contract's salary in the first two years.
Ravens vice president of marketing David Modell said Macik was supposed to give a counteroffer yesterday, but Modell said the club never received one.
"We feel it's not in the best interests of our organization to pay Steve Everitt $2.8 million for one year. As evidenced by our proposal, we are willing to pay him more than that sum, but for a longer contract," said Modell, who has been handling the Everitt negotiations. "My objective, though, is to get a deal done with Steve."
The move to lift the transition tag is a gamble. The offensive line was one of the league's best and the team's strength last season, with Everitt and rookie left guard Jonathan Ogden having good seasons, even though Everitt missed eight of the last nine games with a partially torn pectoral muscle.
But Jones is headed to Denver. Jeff Blackshear, who started 12 games at right guard, is an unrestricted free agent and the club terminated the contract of top tackle reserve Herman Arvie yesterday because of recurring neck and shoulder problems.
And now Everitt is about to become a free agent.
"Sure it's a gamble, but it doesn't mean that Steve and Michael aren't top priorities," Newsome said. "We still feel we have a good chance to re-sign both players. As for Blackshear, we're planning to enter negotiations with him next week."
Jackson had a career-high 1,201 yards on 76 catches last season. He also tied San Diego's Tony Martin for the league lead in touchdown receptions with 14.
A team source said the Ravens never had any plans to pick up the option year in Jackson's contract, but the team is prepared to offer him a three- to four-year deal worth between $2 million and $2.8 million a season. The Ravens also like their chances of signing Jackson because of the team's relationship with agent Marvin Demoff.
Demoff did not return phone calls to his office.
"We're gonna sign Michael," Art Modell said. "We're confident we can sign him. He likes it here. We like him. He knows that. It's just a matter of getting together."
The waiving of Arvie was no surprise, but it limits the team's depth on the offensive line. He relieved Jones and right tackle Orlando Brown last season until a contusion on his spinal cord against Cincinnati forced him to miss the final two games.
Arvie, 26, was warned by three doctors not to play again.
"Yesterday [Tuesday] they told me I wouldn't pass the physical," said Arvie, who was told of his release by a reporter. "That let me know they were going to do something soon. I'm not real stunned about it."
The Ravens tendered offers to five of their restricted free agents yesterday including cornerbacks Donny Brady and Dorian Brew, offensive lineman Sale Isaia, center Quentin Neujahr and quarterback Scott Otis. By tendering offers, the team maintained exclusive rights to negotiate new contracts with them.
The Ravens did not tender offers to safety Vashone Adams, linebacker Sedric Clark, cornerback Corey Dowden, defensive lineman Elliott Fortune, linebacker Dexter Daniels and tight end Frank Hartley, who now become free agents.
The Ravens announced two members of the practice squad from a year ago -- tight end A. J. Ofodile and offensive lineman Spender Folau -- had reached agreements on contracts and the team was waiving rookie quarterback Jon Stark, the subject of an NFL gambling probe.
Pub Date: 2/13/97