OWINGS MILLS -- Because of salary-cap flexibility, the Baltimore Ravens were
able to block the archrival Cleveland Browns from acquiring restricted free
agent running back Chester Taylor on Monday by matching a one-year, $3 million
The Ravens held on to Pro Bowl runner Jamal Lewis' primary backup by matching a contract that includes a $2 million base salary, a $1 million signing bonus and a pair of $100,000 incentive clauses.
"It's unfortunate that Cleveland put us in a position, and it's great for
Chester because it means he's going to get a nice payday, but it's not going to
prevent us from doing anything further in free agency," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It doesn't carry any dead money or any constraints into next
year. It just kind of artificially pushes the cap up, but most teams choose not
to do that.
"Chester is an important part of what we do. Because we do have the cap room, there really wasn't much of a likelihood that we were going to let him go."
Although the $3 million cost against the Ravens' 2005 salary cap is $2.34 million more than the $656,000 low tender Baltimore had assigned Taylor, they can afford it. They are reportedly $10 million underneath the salary cap limit.
It's the latest boardroom joust between Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and Browns general manager Phil Savage, the former Ravens' director of player personnel. Savage recently talked cornerback Gary Baxter out of a verbal agreement with Baltimore to sign with Cleveland.
"I don't know if it's gamesmanship," Billick said. "There's certain things you do to be competitive and you want to improve your team, but there are things that you don't do simply because at the end of the day it's not healthy for the league.
"It's not healthy for the cap. It artificially pushes it up for everybody. It's not something we have done, nor a lot of other teams do."
Retaining Taylor gives the Ravens insurance as Lewis is rehabbing from ankle surgery while serving four months for a drug charge in a Florida prison. Also, running back Musa Smith is recovering from a gruesome broken leg that required surgery.
While Taylor will earn $3 million in 2005 as a backup, Lewis is slated to be paid a $3.58 million base salary.
The Ravens actually could have saved money on Taylor by assigning him the middle tender of $1.43 million allocated for safety Will Demps and defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu.
"In hindsight, you look at the value, but you kind of roll the dice a little bit
when you do tenders," Billick said.
Taylor, who rushed for 714 yards and two touchdowns last season, would receive $100,000 if he makes the Pro Bowl and another $100,000 if he rushes for 1,000 yards. It's highly unlikely that those incentives will be triggered in 2005 as a backup.
A sixth-round pick in 2002 out of Toledo, Taylor is slated to become an unrestricted free agent in 2006.
"The Ravens are a great organization and Chester Taylor is proud to be a Baltimore Raven," said Ken Sarnoff, Taylor's agent. "He looks forward to helping the Ravens compete for a Super Bowl ring in 2005."
If the Ravens hadn't matched the offer, they would have received the Browns' sixth-round draft pick as compensation.
"This shows the continued commitment of Steve Bisciotti to win and the flexibility of our cap that we can retain a player like Chester," Newsome said. "Keeping Chester makes us a stronger and deeper team."
As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.