The Ravens signed veteran Denver Broncos offensive tackle Harry Swayne to a four-year, $13.2 million contract yesterday, including a $5 million signing bonus, and they have had preliminary talks with two teams about moving up into the top six of the NFL draft in April to possibly select a quarterback.
The addition of Swayne virtually filled two holes for the Ravens, enabling the team to move swing guard/tackle James Atkins to left guard next season. With Swayne and the recent addition of Charles Evans at fullback, the Ravens still want to find a big wide receiver such as North Carolina State's Torry Holt or Ohio State's David Boston, or a young quarterback to build around like Syracuse's Donovan McNabb or Oregon's Akili Smith.
Ozzie Newsome, vice president of player personnel, said the Ravens were still optimistic about trading for Detroit Lions quarterback Scott Mitchell before he is waived on June 1, but he confirmed that the Ravens had spoken with St. Louis and Indianapolis, who have the No. 4 and No. 6 overall picks, respectively, in the draft.
Newsome and Ravens coach Brian Billick adamantly denied having any discussions with the Washington Redskins, who will draft in the No. 5 slot.
The Ravens would prefer to sign Mitchell and then select a franchise quarterback. Newsome said yesterday that Jim Harbaugh, the Ravens' starter at the end of last season, would not be involved in a trade with Detroit, but that San Diego had shown strong interest in Harbaugh. If Mitchell signs here, the Ravens probably would allow the Chargers to move on Harbaugh.
"I spoke yesterday with Chuck Schmidt [Lions chief operating officer] and there is a willingness to make the trade," Newsome said. "We're still working on compensation, but I'm optimistic. As for the addition of Harry Swayne, this eliminates us taking an offensive lineman with the first pick and allows us to select a player who will have an impact on our future."
Billick said he is counting on Swayne, 34, to help nurture an offense that already has lost offensive tackle Orlando Brown and guard/center Wally Williams through free agency. The Ravens also have decided not to pick up the option year on receiver Michael Jackson's contract, and the team has no desire to re-sign fullback Roosevelt Potts.
The Ravens will have a lot of new, and maybe young, faces on offense.
"Obviously, given the situation with our offensive line, this is the most important signing we'll have this off-season in terms of what it represents to the stability of the offense," Billick said. "It also allows us to select the best player available in the draft, truly a blue-chip player.
"Harry has maturity, is very articulate and is a savvy veteran," Billick added. "His leadership and Super Bowl experience, coupled with athleticism, makes him a very important acquisition. He has been with some young teams. He has been with some very good teams. He kind of covers the entire spectrum. He gives us five solid guys up front."
Swayne, 6 feet 5 and 293 pounds, expects to be a leader as well as a teacher. He started every game at right tackle for the Super Bowl champion Broncos last season and at left tackle for San Diego in Super Bowl XXIX. Swayne has appeared in 154 regular-season games with 93 starts plus 13 playoff games.
Newsome said the Ravens may have the most athletic tackles in the league with Swayne and Jonathan Ogden.
"Jonathan is already a great young tackle in this league and I think I can help him because I played on the left side for most of my career," said Swayne, who will make $400,000 in base salary this season. "We have the makings for a good offensive line and this team has a chance to do some things. That's the biggest thing to why I chose the Ravens over the Redskins. This team can win soon while those guys have a little further to go.
"I'm excited about being a Raven and every team needs a good mix of young guys and veterans," said Swayne, who was pushed out of the picture in Denver for the younger Matt Lepsis. "The big difference with the team in Denver and others is that teams need to know how to prepare themselves to win. At some positions we didn't have the most talent, but we knew how to get ready for games."
Swayne was just one of several free agents who have appeared at the Ravens' training facility in recent days. New England tight end Lovett Purnell, a restricted free agent, took a physical for the Ravens yesterday morning but Newsome said he wasn't sure if the team will make him an offer.
Tight end is another position where the Ravens need to find a starter. The team already has signed Frank Wainright and Greg DeLong as their No. 3 and No. 2 tight ends, respectively, but the Ravens are considering Purnell, Seattle's Christian Fauria and former Giant Aaron Pierce for the starting position.
The Ravens also have some interest in Tennessee center Mark Stepnoski and Chicago safety Marty Carter. New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Clarence Jones flew into Baltimore last night to meet with the Ravens, but he canceled his meeting after learning about the Ravens signing Swayne.
Jones apparently doesn't want to play in a backup capacity and the former University of Maryland player felt his stock may have risen with Swayne signing with the Ravens.
NOTE: Billick has been in contact with veteran quarterback Warren Moon, who is still shopping around the league trying to find a starting position. The only other team reportedly interested is San Diego, and that's as a backup. Billick initially expressed interest in Moon as a backup but is keeping his options open because Detroit and the Ravens have not been able to work out an agreement for Mitchell.
"I never considered Warren in one capacity or another," said Billick. "Warren is like Jim Harbaugh. Can he play an entire 16-game schedule? I'm not sure. Can Harbaugh play the entire season without getting hurt? I don't know. The important thing is the structure behind him. You can't go into the season without that structure. We have to be prepared either way because Detroit holds the cards, they are the central figure in all of this.
"Jim, Scott and Warren are all in the same situation," Billick said. "That's why we've given Jim permission to speak with several teams. I would hate to hold him up until May 31 for him to begin talking with other clubs."
Pub Date: 2/27/99