Ravens try to line up McKenzie; 14-year veteran seen as 'binding tie' to ease Williams, Brown void; Backup OK with Harbaugh; QB willing to take cut in pay behind Mitchell


The Ravens could begin to shore up their depleted offensive line soon by signing 14-year veteran guard/center Raleigh McKenzie, and if the team eventually acquires Detroit quarterback Scott Mitchell to be its new starter, Ravens quarterback Jim Harbaugh said he would remain in Baltimore by accepting a backup role and the pay cut that will come with it.

McKenzie, 36, one of the league's most versatile and durable linemen since he entered the league as an 11th-round draft pick of the Washington Redskins in 1985, visited the team at its Owings Mills complex yesterday, one day after he talked with the Miami Dolphins.

McKenzie, 6 feet 2, 283 pounds, has not missed a start since the beginning of the 1992 season. Over that stretch, he also has played in Philadelphia and San Diego, his home during the last two seasons. McKenzie has performed capably at center, guard and right tackle.

Ravens coach Brian Billick, seeking to fill the voids created by the recent free-agent departures of Orlando Brown and Wally Williams, hopes to have McKenzie in the fold by this weekend's scouting combine in Indianapolis. The team is negotiating with McKenzie's agent, Ralph Cindrich.

"I hope we can get it done now or right after the combine," Billick said of McKenzie's deal. "His experience and character are big attributes. Beyond his physical ability, he would be kind of the binding tie we're hoping to bring to the offensive line. Versatility is the key.

"Raleigh gives you that guard-center swing player, which you need when you take seven or eight linemen [into a game], in case somebody gets hurt. We're not looking for a long marriage here. This is a place for him to come and finish his career."

The Ravens also talked yesterday with free-agent tight end/long snapper Frank Wainright, 6-3, 250, who could wind up leaving Miami to replace Brian Kinchen, the franchise's longtime snapper who is an unrestricted free agent.

Also last night, Billick was scheduled to have dinner with free-agent tight end Greg DeLong, 25, a backup who played under Billick for the past five seasons in Minnesota. DeLong, 6-4, 247, also would perform backup fullback and H-back duties in Billick's offense.

"Are we going to be better on special teams and on offense with a guy like Greg DeLong? Yes," Billick said.

Yesterday's most noteworthy meeting took place between Billick and Harbaugh, who chatted for nearly two hours in their first face-to-face session.

The Ravens are pursuing a trade for Mitchell, 31, who has fallen out of favor in Detroit but is a source of intrigue to Billick.

Since the Lions would take a salary cap hit of $4.8 million by unloading Mitchell in a trade -- the Ravens are believed to have offered a second- or third-round draft pick for him, while the Lions reportedly are asking for multiple picks -- Detroit appears set to waive Mitchell after June 1.

Harbaugh, 35, who is scheduled to earn $3.25 million this season, said he felt his days as a starter were numbered before talking with Billick. After the meeting, Harbaugh said he would take a pay cut to stay here as a backup.

"I don't think there's any doubt that Baltimore is looking to get a starting quarterback, and that my role here would be a backup. The reality is, that's what going to be available to me," Harbaugh said.

"Brian is a straightforward guy and he seemed real interested in me and in whether I was happy and comfortable with the situation. This is still a very attractive place to be a backup quarterback. I think we'll get a good system in place. You know how much I love to play, but I guess what's most important to me is being on a winning team. I like to make a buck like anybody else, but it's definitely not the most important thing to me."

Such a demotion for Harbaugh could adversely affect the future of Eric Zeier, the Ravens' backup quarterback in their three years in Baltimore. Zeier, 26, is due to make $300,000 in the last year of a two-year deal. Zeier was unavailable to comment last night.

San Diego, looking for a tutor for Ryan Leaf, is one of several teams interested in trading for Harbaugh.

"There are a number of teams that have shown interest, but we're not interested in trading Jim Harbaugh just yet," Billick said. "Nothing definitive really has been decided yet. I can see Jim Harbaugh as a starter here in 1999. I can see him here as a backup in 1999. We're just into the first quarter on this."

After the scouting combine, the Ravens are expected to pursue more upgrades to their offense. Next week, Minnesota running back/kick return man David Palmer could visit the team. The same goes for 12-year veteran right tackle Harry Swayne, who played both tackle positions effectively last year in Denver.

NOTES: Billick said the Ravens would consider trading up to get a prized quarterback in the April 17 draft, and one of the suitors could be the Redskins, who have the fifth overall selection. The Ravens have the 10th pick. "We will explore every alternative," said Billick, "but we're so enthralled with free agency that the draft seems like it's a million miles away. Is it a possibility? Yes. Have we talked with the Redskins? No. We're not even close to making a decision like that right now." The Ravens are more than $6 million under the league's $59 million salary cap. Tight end Eric Green, who left the Ravens for the New York Jets on Tuesday, signed a four-year, $7.5 million deal that includes a $1.2 million signing bonus.

Ravens turnover

Players lost (7)

C/G Wally Williams FA

RT Orlando Brown FA

TE Eric Green FA

DT James Jones FA

DE Mike Frederick FA

WR Michael Jackson Cut

G Ben Cavil Exp. draft

Players signed (1)

FB Charles Evans FA

FA denotes free agent

Pub Date: 2/18/99

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