Ravens pay the price for not spending


David Modell was named Ravens team president only two weeks ago, but he already is acknowledging problems that his father, owner Art Modell, never would.

David all but admitted last night that the team made a mistake by failing to re-sign defensive tackle James Jones before he became a free agent.

And he said that the stunning escalation in free-agent salaries means that the Ravens need to consider signing more top players to contract extensions, as they did with Ray and Jermaine Lewis last season.

"With an eye on the free-agent insanity, perhaps we need to look a little bit deeper and get a few more guys done to make sure we keep them," Modell said. "I don't think that point has been lost on us."

Modell specifically mentioned defensive end Michael McCrary as a player the Ravens will target for an extension. McCrary is entering the final season of a three-year, $6 million contract.

"He's a guy we are committed to re-signing," Modell said. "And I promise you it won't be a small bill."

The Ravens know all about bills -- they built a record NFL debt of $185 million.

Do they have money? Will they spend it?

Modell and coach Brian Billick insisted yesterday that the answer to both questions is yes. And PSL holders should hold them to their words. Less than a week into free agency, the Ravens have lost five players while signing only one, fullback Charles Evans, to a modest three-year, $3 million contract. They've also cut high-priced receiver Michael Jackson and lost guard Ben Cavil in the expansion draft.

From the outside, it again appears that they're operating on the cheap. But Billick said yesterday that such an assessment is premature, and that the team is only trying to act responsibly.

"The fiscal restraints we're showing right now are self-imposed, in terms of making sure we don't spend foolishly," Billick said. "I'm very pleased with the way we've gone about it.

"It's a little frustrating not to get this player or that player. But this free agency has been a little different than the last couple of years. It had been moving toward a calmer trend. This pace caught everyone a little bit off-guard.

"From my perspective, a few people have had knee-jerk reactions, over-reactions. We're taking a more prudent approach."

So, will the Ravens find quality players? "Yes, sir," Billick said. "And at darn good value, too."

Let's see it, then.

For the umpteenth time, let's see it already.

Losing Wally Williams and Orlando Brown was understandable. Losing Jackson and Eric Green wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

Jones is the one that hurts. The one for which there is no excuse.

Unlike Williams and Brown, he played well last season. Unlike Jackson and Green, he is a leader, an inspiration, a guy you build your team around.

Why is he no longer a Raven?

"I'm not sure we thought the market would head in the direction that it did," Modell said. "That's not to say where we were was a bad place. But in retrospect, it's easier to manage through your rearview mirror.

"Do we wish we had done it in October? I guess so. It's tough to be prescient on all of these things."

Well, the Ravens should have known better. When will teams learn? In free agency, those who wait get burned.

Jones agreed to a four-year, $15.6 million contract with Detroit, including a $4.3 million signing bonus. The Ravens probably could have had him for less before he became a free agent, but Modell said they did not even make him an offer.

"Baltimore told me I was a priority, but I didn't feel that way because I didn't have any contact with them for almost a month before free agency started," Jones told the Detroit Free Press.

"Had they talked to me beforehand and tried to get something done, there's a possibility I might have stayed there. But I felt when I came to Detroit, they told me I was a priority, and they showed it to me by the way they handled things."

The Ravens could argue that Jones isn't worth the money. But they're more than $6 million under the cap. And now, they've got an unnecessary hole at defensive tackle.

Here's a team tapping PSINet for $105 million, a team benefiting from another outrageous NFL television contract, a team printing money at the U.S. Mint at Camden Yards.


"Oddly enough, in this business of free agency, one disappointment leads to three other opportunities," Billick said. "With the commitment of funds we were prepared to give James, it gives us the latitude to do some other things." Again, let's see it.

This isn't baseball, where the Orioles can spend and spend until they at least give the appearance of contention. Under the cap, every dollar you give one player is a dollar you can't give another.

No one is asking the Ravens to do anything foolish -- for instance, giving free-agent cornerback Dale Carter a six-year, $38 million deal with an $8 million signing bonus.

Denver made that deal.

And Kansas City president Carl Peterson couldn't believe it.

"It was too large," Peterson said after losing Carter to his biggest AFC West rival. "I was not comfortable stepping up to anything like that. It's an amazing contract. I'm surprised at the numbers. They are well, well beyond [the salary of] any other defensive back in the league."

Well, such is life in today's NFL. Brown is now the league's highest-paid offensive lineman. Williams is the highest-paid center or guard. And Carter is earning more than Deion Sanders.

At some point, you must play the game.

In fairness, the Ravens have so many holes, they probably aren't at that point yet.

Denver is trying to win its third straight Super Bowl, so it overpaid for Carter. Jacksonville is trying to overtake Denver, so it committed $13 million in signing bonuses to safety Carnell Lake, defensive end Gary Walker and tight end Kyle Brady.

Would the Ravens' lenders even allow them to spend that kind of money? The question will continue to nag at this team until it starts flexing some financial muscle.

Billick said he inquired about possible cash-flow problems when he interviewed for the head coach's job, and solicited the opinions of others in the NFL.

"[The Ravens'] answer alone wasn't going to satisfy me," Billick said. "But I know two or three people around the league who understand the financial end of it.

"They rated the ability and cash strength of the organization as clearly substantial and adequate. It wasn't in the lead. It wasn't in the top five. But it wasn't in the bottom 15, either.

"Clearly, in the process of moving from Cleveland to here, that was a problem, one we were aware of league-wide. That is not the case now."

Let's see it, then.

Let's see it, once and for all.

Pub Date: 2/18/99

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