PALM DESERT, CALIF. — PALM DESERT, Calif. -- The Ravens hope to leave the NFL owners meetings with two extra draft picks that they can use to rebuild their porous defense.
After being stymied again in an attempt to sign an unrestricted free agent when defensive end Raylee Johnson agreed yesterday to return to the San Diego Chargers, the Ravens are putting a lot of emphasis on getting more draft picks.
Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel, said he'll continue talks during the meetings with Randy Mueller, the Seattle Seahawks' director of football operations, about making a deal and would like to complete it this week.
Newsome wants a second- and a fourth-round pick in exchange for trading down from the fourth to the 11th spot on the first round. The Seahawks have the 11th and 12th picks.
The Seahawks are offering a third-round choice this year and another third-rounder next year, but the Ravens want both picks this year.
Newsome pointed out that last year the Oakland Raiders traded second- and fourth-round picks to move up from the 17th to ninth spot to draft tight end Ricky Dudley.
If the Ravens can get the two extra picks, they'll have five of the first 64 picks and seven picks in the first four rounds, including three second-round picks. They already have Denver's second-round choice for Tony Jones.
Newsome said that the team would save more than $2 million and would have three players instead of one by trading down.
Last year, the Ravens gave Jonathan Ogden, the fourth player picked in the first round, $7.5 million in first-year signing bonus and salary. By contrast, cornerback Alex Molden, the 11th player picked by New Orleans, got $4.3 million in first-year compensation.
Players picked in the middle of the second and fourth rounds last year got around $900,000 and $300,000 in their first seasons, so the total compensation for the three players likely would be around $5.5 million.
Newsome said the club could use the $2 million savings on free agents.
The Ravens are still looking to sign their first free agent after PTC defensive end Ray Seals of Pittsburgh went to Carolina last week and Johnson decided to stay with San Diego even though the Ravens tried to sell him on the idea he could be another Lamar Lathon or Kevin Greene as an outside rush linebacker for Baltimore.
"Obviously the kid liked us and we liked the kid. It could have been an attractive situation for the player," Newsome said. "If we'd have gotten Raylee and gone to the 3-4 defense, look at what everybody has done in the 3-4 defense. Look what Lamar Lathon has done. Look at what Kevin Greene has done. [Greg] Lloyd. You name them. They've all done well in that defense. That was the attraction."
But when San Diego, which originally was offering $1 million a year, boosted its offer to more than $4 million in a three-year deal with a buyout in the third year and $2 million guaranteed, Johnson decided he didn't want to leave San Diego even though he's a part-time player as a pass-rushing defensive end.
Tony Agnone, Johnson's Baltimore-based agent, said, "I'm disappointed because I thought he could have a real impact for the Ravens."
The loss of Johnson means the Ravens likely will stay with the 4-3 with Ray Lewis in the middle. They'd like to sign free agent Broderick Thomas of Dallas to play one outside slot and re-sign Mike Caldwell, who visited Arizona last week, and have him compete with one of the rookie linebackers they plan to draft.
Now that Johnson is gone, signing Thomas and a safety -- either Brock Marion or George Teague, both of Dallas -- are their top priorities, but their defense has a lot of holes until they can get some players signed.
"Tell me about it," Newsome said. "I have nightmares about it."
The Ravens are desperate to improve a defense that was third worst in points allowed (441), tied for third worst in sacks (30) and the worst in yards allowed (5,889).
In other personnel matters, one source said the team has decided to try to sign Leo Goeas of St. Louis over Ricky Siglar of Kansas City to fill their open guard spot. Newsome would only say they're negotiating. They're also interested in Chicago center Jerry Fontenot.
A source also said they've decided to redo the contract of tackle Orlando Brown, although both Newsome and Brown's agent, Tom Condon, said no talks have taken place. Brown's cap number this year is $1.36 million.
The Ravens are about $5.7 million under the salary cap after extending Vinny Testaverde's contract. His $2.5 million signing bonus boosted his cap number this year from $2.16 million to $2.78 million.
David Modell, the executive vice president, also had good news for ticket buyers. He said the team would freeze ticket prices for the first three years it is in Baltimore and would like to reduce them -- even if it's only a token 50 cents -- the fourth year to keep prices affordable for the average fan.
He said 75 percent of the tickets at the new stadium will cost $35 or less.
Modell also said the club plans not to sell some of the tickets behind posts in the second and last year at Memorial Stadium.
NOTE: The Ravens hired Lester Erb, formerly a coaching assistant at Syracuse, to fill the position of quality control/offense, vacated last month by Eric Mangini, who joined the New York Jets.
Pub Date: 3/11/97