The Ravens reached an agreement in principle with defensive end Michael McCrary last night in a deal that will probably allow him to retire in a Ravens uniform.
According to league sources, McCrary has agreed to a six-year deal worth $4 million a season and will receive a $3.6 million signing bonus.
Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' senior vice president of football operations, confirmed an agreement had been reached but would not discuss the specifics.
McCrary had two years remaining on his current contract, one that would have paid the nine-year veteran $5.25 million this season.
The Ravens pressed negotiations with McCrary and his agent, Tony Agnone, this week because the team needed $850,000 in cap room to select all 10 of its picks in next weekend's NFL draft.
"It's an extension," Newsome said last night.
McCrary, from his home in Phoenix, was obviously elated. There was strong speculation at the end of last season that he would be waived like several other defensive standouts.
"Baltimore is a good city to play in," McCrary told The Sun last night. "We've lost a lot of players. Everybody is counting us out. But we still have a lot of players who have a lot of heart, like Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware and Chris McAlister. If you have guys like that, the rest of the team will follow. I don't consider myself near the end of my career, but I'm happy that this deal will give me an opportunity to retire in Baltimore as a Raven."
According to a league source, the Ravens now have enough cap room to start entertaining free agents. The Ravens had been the only team not to sign a player in the off-season.
The move would give the Ravens some needed experience back on the defensive line. Starting defensive tackle Tony Siragusa retired after last season, and the Ravens waived both starting tackle Sam Adams and end Rob Burnett shortly after the season.
But now the Ravens have McCrary back, and the team will probably try to re-sign reserve defensive tackle Larry Webster, who was also waived at the end of last season in an all-out, house-cleaning move by the Ravens. Even though Webster, a former University of Maryland standout, came off the bench, he could probably start for most teams.
It was not clear last night what McCrary's role would be with the team. Last year, the Ravens played a 4-3 defense under former coordinator Marvin Lewis. Ever since signing with the Ravens in April 1997, Mc- Crary has been one of the league's most dominant pass rushers.
But Mike Nolan has replaced Lewis, and there was speculation that McCrary would be moved inside to play end in a 3-4 defense, a position that might have slowed him down because he is more of a speed rusher.
Both the team and McCrary were concerned about the physical strain on his body because McCrary usually plays at around 250 pounds.
But to reduce the strain, the Ravens had contemplated using McCrary more exclusively on passing downs.
"I have no idea what they will have me doing," said McCrary. "I guess it's whatever they want my role to be. Whatever they ask me to do, I'll play. I can play anywhere. If that's where they want me to play, outside, I'll play it. But I figure I can play better on the outside."
McCrary was having one of his best seasons last year when he collected eight sacks in the first 10 games. But an injury to his knee, which occurred in the first game, forced him to miss the final six games.
McCrary said last night that his rehabilitation ended in January, and he is back in peak training. He has had four surgeries on his knees during his career.
"It was a freak injury," said McCrary. "I was having perhaps my best season. I came in in great shape, I was a beast. I expect to be in similar condition when the season starts."
McCrary was one of three top players the Ravens had been trying to restructure. The other two were Lewis and Boulware. There has been movement in the negotiations with Boulware, but not much progress with Lewis.
Lewis initially wanted a seven-year deal worth $100 million, which included a $30 million signing bonus. According to a league source, the Ravens contacted Lewis recently and told him they would offer him a $12 million signing bonus, which is what the New York Giants recently offered Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan.
But Lewis, according to the source, balked, and his agents have pointed out recent deals of other players who received higher signing bonuses, including Minnesota receiver Randy Moss ($18 million), and $15 million each for Arizona quarterback Jake Plummer and New England defensive back Ty Law.