Ravens reach deal with T. Jones, eight more to go

The maze of contract negotiations continues for the Baltimore Ravens, although this relative labyrinth became a bit more manageable by Monday evening when the club hammered out a pact with rookie tight end Terry Jones. The Ravens' negotiators reached an agreement in principle for three years worth $1.015 million with a signing bonus of $110,500 with the fifth-round selection from Alabama. Jones will be paid the minimum base salaries of $225,000 in 2002, $300,000 in 2003 and $380,000 in 2004.

These rookie deals have been progressing at an extremely slow pace with this latest contract agreement only cutting Baltimore's remaining list of draft picks left to sign down to eight with two days before players will report to the team hotel in Westminster for training camp.

"We've had discussions, but we don't have a contract," said Peter Schaffer, who represents wide receiver Javin Hunter. "Contract negotiations are like pregnancies. You can't be a little bit pregnant, and you don't have a deal until you have a deal. 

"You don't get any points, or money, for being close."

Still unsigned: Free safety Ed Reed (first round, Miami), defensive end Anthony Weaver (second round, Notre Dame), punter Dave Zastudil (fourth round, Ohio University), return specialist Lamont Brightful (sixth round, Eastern Washington), Hunter (sixth round, Notre Dame), running back Chester Taylor (sixth round, Toledo), strong safety Chad Williams (sixth round, Southern Miss.) and quarterback Wes Pate (seventh round, Stephen F. Austin).

 "I think everything should be getting on the ball soon," said Brightful, who is auditioning to replace departed Pro Bowler Jermaine Lewis. "It's all new to me, but I'm taking it all in stride."

Previously, the Ravens reached an accord late last week with wide receiver Ron Johnson, a fourth-round selection, for three years and a total of $1.181 million, including a signing bonus of $276,000.

This year, the NFL raised the minimum salary level for rookies by 7.6 percent from $209,000 to $225,000.

Because of a clause in the collective bargaining agreement, the league didn't raise the pool of money each team is allowed to use to sign their draft picks. That has created flat negotiations where teams are offering similar deals to last season's picks, or giving out proposals that closely mirror what other players drafted near their rookie are receiving.

 The practice is called slotting, and teams are exploring creative alternatives in some cases, including offering longer contracts, guaranteed money and incentives. Some proposals have included escalator clauses. The situation has required a lot more imagination than in past years to consummate deals.

"I think a lot of activity should unfold soon," said Alonzo Shavers, who represents Taylor, a 1,492-yard rusher with 20 touchdowns last season. "I think the Ravens were taking today to collect themselves and make sure their program analysts were all on the same page.

"Once the chips start falling, all of these deals will get done. I expect it all to happen in the next 48 hours."

Williams said he was anxious to finish his contract up and play some football. His agent said he was still waiting to hear back from the Ravens.

"I'm pretty confident it will get done," Williams said. "It's not my thing. I want to be in camp as soon as possible because I really want to contribute. I really wish it had been done by now, but I'm confident the team will take care of me.

"I'm not worried. The team drafted me, so, obviously, they want me on the team."

 Brightful's representative, Jack Scharf, said he spoke to Ravens capologist Pat Moriarty late Monday evening and is confident that something will be done soon, possibly today or Wednesday.

"Without a doubt, this thing will get done because it's a priority for everyone involved," Scharf said. "I'm not the only agent sitting around saying, ‘What's up with the Ravens?' The rookie pool is affecting things because with these minimum salaries being raised the teams are taking a little bit longer to sign all of their draft choices. "Lamont has got his priorities straight. He's going to head into camp with a hunger in his belly. I'm confident that Baltimore will take care of business. They have a very young team and they drafted specifically for need this year."

Pate's agent, Vann McElroy, said he is close to being done with his contract. "We're working hard," McElroy said. "Baltimore is a good franchise. We'll get something done. We're just in the middle of getting some of the kinks worked out.

 "Quarterbacks are always paid at a premium. Our dollars aren't that much different. I don't think it will take much more time."

Meanwhile, Jones is headed for a blocking role as a 6-foot-3, 265-pound prospect who caught 31 passes for 480 yards and three touchdowns during his Crimson Tide career. He'll be behind starter Todd Heap on the depth chart and will compete with veteran John Jones for playing time in double tight end sets. 

"Terry wanted to get into camp on time," said agent Todd France, whose client received an identical signing bonus to the 155th overall selection from last year. "He's a very physical player, super smart and determined, a hard-working, tough guy.

"I'm happy with the deal. A lot of guys in this round are getting a lot less than last year's deal. It took a while to get it done."

And as Scharf said of the lack of signings at this late stage of the game: "There are a lot of agents and players waiting for slots to be filled."

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