The Ravens released Eric Turner yesterday, after failing in their last-ditch effort to secure a contract extension that could have kept the high-priced safety around under more comfortable salary cap conditions.
By cutting Turner, who carried the most expensive price tag on their roster -- and the steepest among all NFL safeties -- the Ravens relieved themselves of $3 million in cap charges and allowed Turner to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his six-year career.
Turner was entering the final year of a three-year contract in which he would have cost the Ravens $3.9 million. He was set to receive a $1.3 million roster bonus today, and a $1.7 million salary for the 1997 season. Another $916,000 of his original, $2.75 million signing bonus already has been counted against the cap.
Upon the team's request, Turner's agent, Mike Sullivan, produced a proposal that could have given the team immediate cap relief and kept Turner a Raven. Sullivan proposed a five-year, $14 million deal that included a $5 million signing bonus and would have lowered Turner's cap number to $2.1 million in 1997, nearly cutting his original cap figure in half. In addition, his $1.3 million roster bonus for this year would have been eliminated.
"What we were trying to do is work something out before we got to this point, but we were unable to get it done," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel. "In the era of the cap, we have to make these decisions."
Sullivan, who also spent the past week trying to find a team willing to trade for Turner, wondered why the Ravens waited so long to enlist his help.
"We couldn't believe they didn't do this sooner," Sullivan said. "Before you give away someone for nothing, you should at least find out if you can come to terms you can handle. Eric tried to accommodate their needs. Now, Eric becomes one of the most attractive football players on the free-agent market."
Turner could not be reached to comment.
Ravens officials said they are hoping to compete for Turner's services on the open market, but his return to Baltimore appears highly unlikely.
Privately, some members within the organization believe Turner's performance has declined since a lower-back injury that caused him to miss the last half of the 1995 season in Cleveland, a year after Turner had his best season and made his first Pro Bowl. He also clashed last season with Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, who declined to comment.
Drafted by the Browns out of UCLA in 1991, when he was the second player chosen overall, Turner was designated as the Browns' franchise player after the 1994 season. Last year, he went to his second Pro Bowl in February after he was selected originally as an alternate.
Turner, 6 feet 1, 207 pounds, was second on the Ravens with 112 tackles and tied for the team lead with five interceptions, although those numbers went largely unnoticed on one of the NFL's worst defenses. The Ravens allowed 441 points, third-highest in the league. Turner also missed two games (sprained ankle).
"My guess is they figured, on a 4-12 team with a defense that bad, Eric's money would be better spent on other resources," Sullivan said.
"We'd like to bring him back at a [financial] level where he fits into the scheme of things," team owner Art Modell said. "He was a spectacular football player, as good a safety as I've ever seen, prior to his injury. He's still a good football player. How great he is is for other people to judge."
Coach Ted Marchibroda said, "He's a good football player, and we'd like to have him back, but now there's a price tag on every player, at every position. If you pay a guy $4 million, he's got to be a Bruce Smith or a Reggie White."
With Turner, 28, gone, the Ravens have only one safety under contract in veteran Bennie Thompson. They have talked with free agents Brock Marion and George Teague, and could make offers to both next week.
The Ravens also might re-sign veteran strong safety Stevon Moore, who has yet to visit any teams on the open market.
Said Sullivan: "No player can be unhappy being an unrestricted free agent on March 1 in the prime of his career."
NOTES: San Francisco 49ers cornerback Steve Israel visited the Ravens yesterday. Israel, 5-11, 186, a five-year veteran drafted by the Rams in 1992, recorded 40 tackles, one interception and )) knocked down seven passes last year. He played in 14 games and started two. The Ravens will interview Vanderbilt tight ends and special teams coach Ken Whisenhunt for their vacant tight ends coaching job. Whisenhunt played tight end from 1985-93 ** for the Atlanta Falcons, Washington Redskins and New York Jets.
Pub Date: 3/01/97