McCrary sacks big contract; Ravens DE agrees to 5-year extension, $12 million bonus; Deal close to Strahan's; 'Monkey off my back,' Pro Bowl player says


Ravens end Michael McCrary became one of the highest-paid defensive players in the NFL yesterday, agreeing to a five-year contract extension that includes a $12.25 million signing bonus.

McCrary, who had a year remaining on his current deal, would make at least $38 million over the next six years, but could make as much as $42 million with bonuses and incentives.

One of the main issues during the four months of negotiations was "up-front" money, or the amount McCrary would be paid in the first three years. According to his agent, Michael George, McCrary will make nearly $16 million in the first three years of the contract.

In the contract's last year, McCrary, 29, would be paid $7 million -- and possibly $4 million more in incentives -- but even if he were still playing in 2004, he probably would have a new contract.

Regardless, McCrary's contract puts him right behind New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, who recently signed a four-year, $32 million contract with a $12 million signing bonus. McCrary becomes the second-highest-paid Ravens defensive player, with his yearly average trailing only the four-year, $26 million deal signed by middle linebacker Ray Lewis last season.

McCrary's total deal is worth about $1.5 million more than the offer on the table when he briefly walked out of camp nearly two weeks ago.

"This feels great. It's like a huge monkey off my back," said McCrary, a relentless pass rusher who has 35 sacks over the past 38 games. "I look forward to playing in Baltimore and being with the team in the future. I look forward to going to the playoffs, which is expected with Brian Billick. I want to be a part of that.

"I'm relieved. I feel like the old McCrary again. I applaud the organization for living up to their promise. Some of the players on the team were paying attention to see how the Ravens handled this situation."

Within the past year, the Ravens have made several significant signings, including deals with Lewis, receiver Jermaine Lewis, right guard Jeff Blackshear and even Billick, who joined the team in January. Ravens owner Art Modell said last night the club is headed in the right direction with its nucleus under contract.

"We're happy for Michael McCrary, his family and us," said Modell. "He is a fabulous football player, and we wanted to do everything to keep him here."

The Ravens were concerned about McCrary's knee when the two sides first entered the negotiations, but Modell said he doesn't consider McCrary's health a risk. McCrary has had four knee operations since joining the Ravens in 1997.

"I watched him move around in practice today," said Modell. "He bull rushed one time, then went outside, then went inside. He's a great athlete who never stops. I think we have a good thing going here with our key players to build around and Billick."

McCrary said yesterday that the negotiations had ruined his concentration until this week, when the Ravens started preparing for the season opener Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

As the talks were going on this week, McCrary was preparing for St. Louis left tackle Orlando Pace, who could become one of the best in the game.

"It would be a lie for me to say that the negotiations haven't been a distraction," said McCrary. "I thought I could block them out, but it hasn't been as easy as I thought.

"But it's different now. It's time to play ball. It's time for me to bring everything together."

"His focus has been good on the field and in meetings," said Billick. "I don't know what he has been like in his free time, but his attention has not been a concern of mine."

Pace, 6 feet 7 and 320 pounds, was the first overall pick in the 1997 draft. He is fluid and an outstanding athlete and can dominate with his pass-protection skills. He was a Pro Bowl alternate in 1998.

McCrary was named to the AFC Pro Bowl squad last season after he finished with 14.5 sacks and a career-high 102 tackles, second-best on the team. McCrary, though, isn't in Pro Bowl form. He was held out of three preseason games because the coaching staff didn't want to risk damage to his knee.

He then missed the final preseason game after walking out of training camp for two days when contract negotiations failed. McCrary will be breathing pretty hard Sunday.

"Of course, I would have liked to have participated more in some of the preseason," said McCrary. "But when I step on the field Sunday, I can't be worried about what I could have done or didn't do. I'm strong enough mentally to go out and play as hard as I usually do. I may not be in the shape that I need to be in, but that's why we have a rotation with Keith Washington and that will take care of that."

Pub Date: 9/10/99

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