The Ravens are about to add two backup tight ends to the 1999 roster, agreeing in principle on three-year contracts with Greg DeLong and Frank Wainwright.
The team also hopes to sign veteran offensive lineman Raleigh McKenzie in the next few days, although McKenzie's agent said his client probably would not be continuing his 14-year career in Baltimore. McKenzie visited Miami the day before he met with the Ravens last week.
The Ravens are looking to fill multiple holes created by the free-agent losses of guard/center Wally Williams, right tackle Orlando Brown and tight end Eric Green. They are pursuing 12-year veteran Denver tackle Harry Swayne, who could visit the Ravens next week. They wanted to have McKenzie in the fold by then.
"I think the Ravens had every reason for optimism, because [McKenzie] had a good visit. He really liked it there," said Ralph Cindrich, McKenzie's agent, who also represents Swayne. "There are a lot of big-time pluses in Baltimore, but I don't think it's going to happen. It's not money. There were some other factors, outside of the financial things."
Cindrich would not elaborate regarding McKenzie. He added that Swayne is "very much interested" in the Ravens.
Once he signs, DeLong will become the second former Minnesota Viking -- fullback Charles Evans is the other -- to follow Brian Billick, who left Minnesota as offensive coordinator to take his first head coaching job here.
DeLong, 6 feet 4, 247 pounds, is a fourth-year player who is used primarily as a blocker in two-tight end formations. He caught just eight passes for 58 yards last year, and his 75 yards receiving in 1997 marked a career high. Wainwright, 6-3, 255, is a seventh-year player who has survived in the NFL mainly due to his long-snapping ability. He played the past 3 1/2 seasons with the Miami Dolphins.
The signings of DeLong and Wainwright could signal the end of Brian Kinchen's time in Baltimore, as well as A. J. Ofodile's. And the Ravens still need to find a starting tight end to replace Green.
"DeLong is unique in that he's Chuck Evans without the running ability," Billick said. "He's not a true, prototype tight end. He's a good H-back, a good pass protector and a good special teams guy. Wainwright could have a long career in this league just as a long snapper. These are good, second-level guys that make up a championship team."
The Ravens also plan to pursue Minnesota running back/kick returner David Palmer and Chicago safety Marty Carter, each of whom could visit the team next week.
Palmer, 5-8, 176, is a versatile specialist in the Jermaine Lewis mold. Last year, his fifth, he averaged 5.2 yards per carry and 10.3 yards per reception as a third-down back. He also averaged 23.5 yards on 50 kickoff returns and 10.3 yards 28 punt returns.
Carter, 6-1, 214, an eight-year veteran, led the Bears in tackles in 1995 and 1996 and was second on the team in 1997. Tampa Bay originally drafted him in the eighth round in 1991. He signed with the Bears in 1995.
Billick also has expressed interest in having running back Errict Rhett return. Rhett, an unrestricted free agent, found himself on the bench for most of the 1998 season, after a highly productive training camp, preseason and regular-season opener, in which he gained 92 yards from scrimmage in a 20-13 loss to Pittsburgh.
"I'm intrigued by a Priest Holmes-Rhett combination. Maybe I can create a productive environment [for Rhett]," Billick said.
Rhett, who wound up with just 44 carries for 180 yards, reportedly is interested in coming back. He started his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in Tampa Bay in 1994 and 1995. Rhett did not return phone calls yesterday.
NOTES: The Ravens' off-season conditioning program will begin March 22. Only seven former Cleveland Browns remain under contract with the Ravens. They are defensive end Rob Burnett, safety Stevon Moore, kicker Matt Stover, safety Bennie Thompson, defensive lineman Larry Webster, offensive lineman Sale Isaia and backup quarterback Eric Zeier.
Pub Date: 2/20/99