As Ravens officials were courting Detroit Lions quarterback Scott Mitchell over dinner last night, one of the team's best players, defensive tackle James Jones, already had found his meal ticket in the city Mitchell is trying to leave.
In a stunning development, the Ravens lost out in their bid to re-sign Jones, an unrestricted free agent, who has agreed in principle to a six-year deal with the Lions worth an average of $3.9 million that includes a $4.3 million signing bonus. The contract has option clauses that could end it after four years, according to a league source.
The Ravens also lost starting tight end Eric Green and reserve defensive lineman Mike Frederick to the New York Jets yesterday. Terms of Green's contract were not available, but he signed a four-year deal. Frederick, who will join his former Cleveland coach Bill Belichick, the Jets' assistant head coach, agreed to a two-year deal believed to be around $1 million, but loaded with incentives.
Meanwhile, one day after the team lost out to the Washington Redskins in the sweepstakes for Minnesota quarterback Brad Johnson, the Ravens were pursuing their second option in Mitchell, who met with Ravens coach Brian Billick at the team's Owings Mills training camp yesterday.
Billick, Mitchell, his agent Tony Agnone, Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, and team president David Modell went to dinner last night, but the two sides are about $1 million apart from possibly agreeing to a one-year deal, according to a league source.
The source said Mitchell wants $3.5 million to $4 million to play for the Ravens this season, nearly the same average salary for quarterbacks Rich Gannon and Trent Green, who recently signed contracts. The Ravens want to pay Mitchell about $2.5 million.
According to the source, Ravens officials were in contact with the Lions yesterday about trying to work out a trade for Mitchell, 31, who has two years left on a contract with Detroit worth $4 million in 1999 and $5 million in 2000.
The problem is that if Detroit trades Mitchell before June 1, $4.8 million will be accelerated to this year's Lions salary cap. If the Lions wait until after June 1, only $2.4 million will count against the cap in 1999 and $2.4 million in 2000.
The Ravens would like to make the trade now, and are believed to be offering either a second- or third-round pick in this year's draft to help compensate Detroit.
Either way, it seems inevitable that Mitchell will get waived.
The news about possibly signing Mitchell has not been favorably received by fans, but Billick asked for patience yesterday. He also says Mitchell was much better than his record indicated during the past two seasons in Detroit.
"If that's the direction we go in, and if we can get the production out of Scott that I think is there, much like some of the other quarterbacks I've worked with, you're talking about a guy that can be in that position for five, six or seven years to come," Billick said of the 6-foot-6, 230-pound quarterback. "Scott is a very strong young man and I imagine he is going to come in here very confident and he can get the job done, if that is the way things work out. Be very careful about stereotyping.
"I'm asking our fans to take a little leap of faith with me here and kind of give me the benefit of the doubt that I kind of know what I'm doing, that we could be in good shape," Billick added. "Anybody that has size, strength, precision, is a good decision-maker and is intelligent, I think I can find a system to utilize that."
Jones' loss will have significant impact because he was not only one of the team's leading tacklers, but one of the Ravens' leaders. Jones, 6-2 and 290 pounds, was the Ravens' sixth-leading tackler last season with 75. He was third on the team in sacks with 5.5 behind team leader Michael McCrary's 14.5 and outside linebacker Peter Boulware's 8.5.
Jones used speed and technique more than sheer power. He visited Detroit Monday and was expected to fly into Jacksonsville yesterday. But Jones apparently never left Detroit. Something steered him away from both Jacksonville and Baltimore. The Jaguars were expected to offer Jones a four-year contract worth $16.7 million.
"Jack Wirth, his agent, said James was going to go through the entire process," said Pat Moriarty, the Ravens' vice president of administration. "He was expected to visit Detroit, then go on to Jacksonville. James had already visited with Brian Billick and our staff, and he was expected to make a decision while all the teams were at the scouting combine later this week.
"Obviously, he decided to go another route and we don't know why," said Moriarty. "We were in the same ballpark with the other offers. We had talked and he said he wanted something structured for three to four years. We never had a chance to bid or counter bid and we were assured that would happen."
Unless the Ravens pick up a starting defensive tackle through free agency, first-year player Lional Dalton would be the starter in Jones' place. Dalton, 6-1 and 320 pounds, had only four tackles last season as a rookie but was impressive in his 22 plays from scrimmage.
Jones was not available for comment last night.
Green's exodus leaves the Ravens with Jermaine Lewis as the only starting receiver under contract from a year ago. Green, 6-5 and 285, may be the best blocking tight end in the NFL, but his play seemed to drop off in the second half of each of his three seasons in Baltimore when he regularly missed practice because of knee problems or other ailments.
Green, 31, was fourth on the Ravens in receptions with 34 for 422 yards, but he missed four games and had a fumbling problem after catches once he punctured a lung on Oct. 11 against the Tennessee Titans.
Billick recently had said he did not know if Green was an every-down tight end, which was an indication he might not return to the Ravens for the 1999 season.
Green was signed yesterday morning after Jets starting tight end Kyle Brady, the team's transition player, signed with Jacksonville for five years and $14.4 million, including a $4 million signing bonus. The Jets have seven days to match the offer or Brady joins the Jaguars. It will be interesting to see how Green plays for the fiery Bill Parcells, New York's head coach.
"I think Eric is a good addition to the team and should improve our running game," said Parcells. "He has been a player I have observed over the last eight to 10 years and know is a top quality tight end. He has produced at a very high level and we're glad to have him here."
Green said: "I'm excited to be with a coach with a proven track record like Bill Parcells. I hope that it brings out the best in me and I hope to add to the team from what they accomplished last season."
The Ravens won't miss Frederick. He spent the last three years mostly on special teams and the Jets tried to trade for him last April during the draft.
NOTE: The six-year, nearly $26 million contract former Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown agreed to with Cleveland makes him the highest paid offensive lineman in the league, according to his agent, Tom Condon of IMG.
Sun staff writer Gary Lambrecht contributed to this article.
Pub Date: 2/17/99