Ravens No. 1 draft pick Duane Starks was the only one of seven picks not to report with 39 other rookies and free agents at the team's training headquarters on the campus of Western Maryland College in Westminster last night.
Owner Art Modell said he felt the Ravens were close to a deal with Starks and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and didn't expect a prolonged holdout like a year ago, when top pick Peter Boulware held out for nearly the entire six weeks of training camp.
The Ravens have offered Starks, a cornerback from the University of Miami, a five-year, $8.42 million contract that includes a $3.7 million signing bonus and would pay Starks $630,000 this season in base salary. His salary would increase to $787,500 next year, $945,000 in 2000, $1.102 million in 2001 and $1.26 million in 2002.
Because six of the Ravens' rookies have agreed to contracts, Starks has limited options. His salary cap number for 1998 is at $1.390 million, which includes his base salary and the prorated signing bonus. The Ravens and Starks are apparently negotiating over the length of the contract and upfront money. Rosenhaus was reportedly seeking an initial signing bonus of $5 million.
Modell said he was not caught off guard by Starks' holdout.
"Twenty-three players in the first round have not signed," said Modell. "Holdouts are part of the landscape. Clearly we're close, and we've maintained a constant dialogue. I'm optimistic that we'll get it done very soon, maybe at the later part of this week."
Neither Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda nor defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis seemed too upset about the news of Starks' holdout. Starks is listed as the No. 2 left cornerback behind Rod Woodson, but he'll be in competition for a starting job with second-year player DeRon Jenkins on the right side.
"If he misses the first couple of days, it doesn't hurt him," said Lewis. "All the stuff we'll go through this week are the same things he has been through twice already, once in minicamp.
"But the biggest thing he needs to work on is being consistent. In this league, receivers are more physical than he is used to. They'll lean into him, push off and that's something he has to learn. The final decision is Ted's on who will start, but we've got to see him against other people."
Marchibroda said: "It depends on how long the holdout lasts. The ability is there and he may be a little bit more instinctive than DeRon, but DeRon has the experience. If this holdout lasts long, it really could hurt our team because our first two games of the season are against teams that use four wide receivers. The length of time is going to be a major factor."
The Ravens say they have offered Starks a market deal, comparable to the six-year, $10.7 million deal signed by Jacksonville Jaguars running back Fred Taylor, which included a $5 million signing bonus, and the five-year, $8.2 million contract agreed to by Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Tra Thomas. Taylor was the ninth pick overall and Thomas was the 11th. Starks was No. 10.
The problem is that Rosenhaus was not impressed with those deals, and wants a better one for his client. He may be waiting for other more prosperous deals signed by first-round picks as leverage, especially since Starks is expected to beat out Jenkins for the job by the season opener.
"Those are deals that were not particularly good," said Rosenhaus of Taylor's and Thomas' agreements. "We're cognizant of the market, but we're not keen on being slotted. We're still in negotiations and one side is not upset with the other. There is no major impasse and we'll get it worked out."
"We've offered a market-value deal," said Modell. "Who is Drew Rosenhaus, the federal grand jury passing judgment and commenting on other deals? Apparently, the people, players and their agents were happy because those deals were made and over."
Starks did not return phone calls.
The rest of the Ravens are prepared to hit the field this morning. The veterans must report before 11 a.m. Friday for the first full team practice at 3 p.m. Marchibroda is known for having one of the tougher training camps in the league.
"I talked to John Mobley [Denver linebacker] and he told me to keep looking to the next day and never get down on yourself," said free-agent receiver Bryan Kish, a teammate of Mobley's at Kutztown State. "You're going to have good days and tough days. You just have to make sure you have more good ones. This is the opportunity of a lifetime and you have to take advantage of it."
"I remember after two weeks of summer practice in college, I was dead," said rookie tight end Cam Quayle, the last player chosen in the 1998 draft. "My body had nothing left to give. Now, the people are bigger, there is the humidity and I'm the runt with five weeks ahead of me. This isn't college anymore. It's my job."
NOTES: The Ravens' fifth and two sixth-round picks agreed to contracts yesterday with No. 5 Ryan Sutter, a safety, opting for a three-year deal worth $643,000 that included a $103,000 signing bonus. Linebacker Ron Rogers and offensive tackle Sammy Williams, both taken in the sixth round, agreed to three-year deals. Rogers' deal was worth $604,000 with a $64,000 signing bonus and Williams' contract totaled $594,000 with a $54,000 signing bonus. The Ravens are expected to begin negotiations with a third receiver either today or tomorrow with former Raven Floyd Turner as the leading candidate. Turner did not play in the league last season. The Ravens had mild interest in former Pittsburgh linebacker Greg Lloyd but backed off over the weekend over questions surrounding his health and a possible huge contract deal.
Location: Western Maryland College, Westminster
Dates: Today to Aug. 20
Practice session hours: 9 a.m. to 11: 15 a.m. and 2: 40 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Directions from Baltimore: Take I-695 to Exit 19 to I-795 north to its end. Follow signs to Westminster via Route 140 west to Route 31 south. At blinking yellow light, turn left (Route 31); at first traffic light, turn left on Main Street. Proceed up the hill, the entrance to parking is on your left.
For more information: Call 410-261-FANS