Once training camp starts, then care about the Ravens


The agents are screaming. The Ravens are yawning.

Sorry, it's not as if Jamal Lewis and Travis Taylor are about to forsake their rookie seasons to enter the presidential race as a third-party ticket.

Wake me up when their contracts are signed.

Wake me up when training camp begins.

Taylor's agent, Steve Weinberg, says he won't resume negotiations until the Ravens make an offer. Lewis' agent, Mitch Frankel, says his talks are at a virtual standstill.

Yesterday was David Modell's turn, and the Ravens' team president repeated his pledge to sign both players, scoffed at the threat of holdouts and defended the negotiating tactics of lead negotiator Pat Moriarty.

Wake me up when coach Brian Billick starts using his techno-geek vocabulary to describe the offensive "multiplicity" that Lewis and Taylor offer.

Wake me up when the rooks cash their signing bonuses and roll into Westminster with their funky jewelry, fancy cell phones and fully loaded SUVs.

"It's that time of year. I'm not alarmed," Modell said.

So, will the Ravens sign Lewis and Taylor by the opening of camp?

"On or about, sure," Modell said.

Fans, then, shouldn't be panicked?

"No, not at all," Modell said. "And they shouldn't be panicked if they [Lewis and Taylor] are late a week. We'll get it done. They're coming."

Training camp is nine days away. Only seven teams have signed their first-round picks. It's not as if the Ravens are the only ones lagging.

Of course, Modell and Co. will merit the full warehouse treatment if they blow this and somehow compromise their most promising season.

But how likely is that?

"I think we're developing a pretty good track record for being reasonable and getting it done," Modell said.

Frankly, the more intriguing question surrounding the Ravens is whether the team will make a serious run at oft-injured free-agent defensive tackle Eric Swann.

Chances are, Swann will sign before the Ravens get a crack at him - he visited Carolina on Thursday and Chicago yesterday, and plans to visit with Denver on Tuesday.

The Ravens would become involved only if those teams backed off and Swann lowered his demands. Gilbert Brown represents another free-agent option, but is it even worth the Ravens' trouble to add at defensive tackle?

They've already got Sam Adams, Tony Siragusa, Lional Dalton and Martin Chase, and Larry Webster could return late in the season if the NFL lifts his suspension after eight games.

The signing of Swann or Brown would jeopardize Siragusa, a potential training-camp holdout. Inflated as "The Goose's" ego might be, let's not forget what he offers: Solid play, continuity and a reasonable $1.5 million salary.

Not that he can't be replaced.

Swann, a superior talent when healthy, would be motivated to play for a long-term contract. Brown would arrive with similar incentive, giving the Ravens another player with Super Bowl experience.

Still, the best guess is that Siragusa will return. And if the Ravens can free enough salary-cap room by restructuring Ray Lewis' contract and re-signing Jonathan Ogden, they probably should sign another offensive lineman.

But back to the draft picks - Lewis at No. 5 and Taylor at No. 10.

The Ravens had the No. 10 choice each of the past two seasons, and signed both Duane Starks and Chris McAlister within reasonable time frames - Starks two weeks after the start of camp, McAlister five days before.

Peter Boulware staged a protracted holdout as the fourth overall pick in 1998, but went on to enjoy a terrific rookie season. Owner Art Modell took a hard line in those negotiations. His son, David, seems prepared to do the same.

"The technique of holding players out as a negotiating tool is vastly overrated," David Modell said. "Generally speaking, if you've done your homework, if you're prepared to pay and be reasonable, then holding or not holding out has no effect.

"So, hold him out, OK? I'll go play golf. And when you decide to get it done, we'll get it done. We're still on reasonable terms. By holding a player out, it doesn't mean we'll panic and overpay a guy by 30 percent. It's absurd.

"It's not going to get us to overreact or feel any pressure to get it done. It just won't."

The Ravens have made their share of mistakes in negotiations (Wally Williams, James Jones), but they've also enjoyed a series of successes - Jermaine Lewis, Ray Lewis and Michael McCrary; Tony Banks, Rob Burnett and Shannon Sharpe.

They deserve the benefit of the doubt, and Modell again expressed full confidence in Moriarty, the team's Director of Football Administration. Moriarty declined comment.

"I happen to think Pat is tough to negotiate with," Modell said. "You know what? That's good. I'm happy about that. He's doing his job. That's exactly what he should be doing.

"I'd be concerned if he was completely unreasonable, or on the flip side, if he was a marshmallow. Pat's neither of those. He's extremely well-prepared, ready to go when the time is right.

"He's not going to be walked over. And if it's going to be mutual Chinese water torture, he's prepared to do that, and he's going to be perfectly unemotional about it."

If it's going to be a mutual Chinese water torture, then it's the agents' problem and the Ravens' problem.

Wake me up when Lewis and Taylor are filthy rich.

Wake me up when it's over.

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