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Searcy's year ends before it can start


Leon Searcy, the Ravens' high-priced bookend on their offensive line, has been shelved for the year, ending the right tackle's season before even playing a down.

After undergoing surgery to repair a partial rupture of his triceps tendon in his left arm yesterday, Searcy was placed on injured reserve, meaning he will miss an entire season for the second straight year. The Ravens used his roster spot to sign free-agent kicker Danny Kight, who will handle kickoff duties.

Searcy, a Pro Bowl tackle in 1999, originally tore his tendon on the first play of an intrasquad scrimmage on Aug. 3. He had surgery and was projected to return tomorrow against his former team, the Jacksonville Jaguars.

But he re-injured the arm in his return to practice last week, delivering another blow to the Ravens' embattled offensive line. Ravens coach Brian Billick indicated yesterday that Searcy remains in the team's future plans, but senior vice president of football operations Ozzie Newsome seemed more noncommittal.

"It's unfortunate," Billick said. "The guy worked real hard but it was one of those things where it just didn't take. He'll rehab it hard and hopefully come back next year 100 percent, having all those injuries behind him and be ready to go."

The Ravens, though, will have an important decision regarding Searcy in March.

Although he signed a six-year, $31.5 million contract that included a $3 million signing bonus last spring, the deal is actually a two-year contract with a four-year option.

To keep Searcy, the Ravens must pay what is believed to be close to a $3 million bonus at the end of this season to exercise their option on the final four years of the contract.

If they cut Searcy after the season, the Ravens would not have to pay his base salary for the second year of the contract, but the remaining pro-rated portion of his initial signing bonus - $2.5 million - would count against the Ravens' 2002 salary cap.

Another alternative to keeping Searcy would be restructuring his contract. Searcy's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, did not return phone messages.

"I can't look into a crystal ball," Newsome said. "Right now, we have him under contract for next year. We'll let that decide itself next spring."

This latest operation is Searcy's third in 14 months, an unsettling trend for a 31-year-old veteran lineman.

In the Jaguars' 2000 training camp, Searcy tore the quadriceps muscle above his right knee in the first contact drill. A year later, he forcefully extended his left arm out to block, ripping a tendon despite not hitting anyone.

With this latest setback, he will have to wait three months before starting to strengthen his arm again.

"We're anticipating a full recovery," Ravens trainer Bill Tessendorf said.

By signing Searcy, the Ravens opted to let center Jeff Mitchell go to the Carolina Panthers as a free agent. Now, the Ravens have to rely on a rotation of Sammy Williams and Erik Williams at right tackle.

Their plan of showcasing bookend Pro Bowl tackles - Searcy and Jonathan Ogden - was done before the season began.

"It's kind of similar to the Jamal [Lewis] situation," Ogden said. "We feel bad for Leon because he wanted to come back and play, especially after missing all of last year. But at the same time, we've been playing without him and we're just going to have continue to do what we've been doing. This is the way it goes sometimes."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Jacksonville Jaguars

Site: PSINet Stadium

When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 7

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