Another distress signal flared over the Ravens' training facility in Owings Mills yesterday, when the agent for first-round draft pick Jamal Lewis said negotiations were at a virtual standstill.
Not even a three-day session between Ravens chief negotiator Pat Moriarty and agent Mitch Frankel this week could nudge the talks toward a conclusion.
"I don't think we're any further along than we were before he got here," Frankel said from his offices in Boca Raton, Fla. "We've exchanged many proposals over the past three or four weeks, and all types of different deals."[But] I don't think we're close on anything."
After making two picks in the top 10 of April's college draft, the Ravens launched negotiations with both Lewis, a running back, and Travis Taylor, a wide receiver, in late May - the earliest starting point for the 5-year-old franchise.
But so far those negotiations have lurched along at a crawl. Nearly two weeks ago, Taylor's agent, Steve Weinberg, complained about the lack of meaningful dialog with the Ravens.
This week, it's Lewis' agent with a different lament.
"We're clear on our positions, clear on the issues, clear on what's important to each side," Frankel said. "I think we've accomplished a lot in that capacity.
"We haven't been able to work through those to make a contract both sides are happy with."
What, then, is the sticking point?
"I think everything is the sticking point at this time," he said.
Ten days before training camp, that draws into question whether the Ravens will have Lewis or Taylor in camp on time.
Members of the Ravens' front office began returning from vacation this week to make final preparations for camp.
"We will be working hard to get all the draft picks in before camp starts," said Ozzie Newsome, vice president for player personnel. "But we do realize in this business there are holdouts, and we have experienced them."
Moriarty was unavailable to comment.
Lewis, the fifth pick in the draft, showed fast feet, soft hands and shifty moves during four different off-season minicamps. He figures to give the Ravens the red-zone running game they've been seeking.
"Jamal spent a lot of time there, spent a lot of time learning the system," Frankel said. "That's why we encouraged him to be there, to learn as much as he could, just in case something happens, not that we're planning it.
"He understands the intricacies of a contract. He would like to be in camp on time. [But] he's not feeling any enormous stress or pressure."
The talks with the Ravens have been amicable, at least. Frankel said the Ravens have not attempted to force-feed the contract of Ricky Williams - last year's fifth pick and a running back - on Lewis. "And I give them respect for not doing that," he said.
Williams' incentive-laden deal (eight years, $16.215 million) with the New Orleans Saints had the former Heisman Trophy winner trying to renegotiate before the year was out. But he did get a signing bonus of $8.84 million, $7.2 million of which he's already received.
Frankel said Lewis was open to a short contract or a longer one, "as long as the terms are right."
He'd obviously prefer a contract closer to what running back Edgerrin James got from the Indianapolis Colts (seven years, $49 million, $9.5 million signing bonus) as the fourth pick last year than what Williams got from the Saints.
Frankel said he'll make another run at the Ravens next week.
"It's a matter of continuing to talk and continuing to see if we can reach some common ground," Frankel said. "There has been progress. But we're far away from having an agreement."
NOTES: At the invitation of Maryland Speaker of the House Casper R. Taylor, Ravens president David Modell toured Frostburg State yesterday as a potential training camp home. The Ravens have two years left at Western Maryland, and Modell said, "We're very happy at WMC." ... Newsome said he spoke with Steve Zucker, who represents free agent defensive tackle Eric Swann, yesterday and will talk again next week to arrange a possible visit and physical. Newsome has also talked to the agent for defensive tackle Gilbert Brown about a possible visit. ... Tight end Shannon Sharpe, who cannot persuade wideout Jermaine Lewis to surrender No. 84, will wear No. 82 for the Ravens - Newsome's old number with the Cleveland Browns - when he chases Newsome's all-time record for catches by a tight end (662). Sharpe has 552.