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'In transition'

Ravens' overhaul to claim as many as seven starters

Posted: Tuesday February 26, 2002 2:01 PM
Updated: Wednesday February 27, 2002 2:54 AM
  Rod Woodson Pro Bowl free safety Rod Woodson will be among those released by Baltimore. Doug Pensinger/Allsport

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) -- Starters Shannon Sharpe, Rod Woodson and Qadry Ismail will be released by the Baltimore Ravens, whose salary-cap woes are forcing them to cut several key players from the team that won the Super Bowl just 13 months ago.

Ravens VP of player personnel Ozzie Newsome said the moves, to be made Thursday, will get the Ravens under the NFL-mandated $71.1 million league spending limit by Friday's deadline.

Newsome also emphasized that quarterback Elvis Grbac, signed in 2001 to a five-year, $30 million deal, won't stay with the team unless he agrees to a restructured contract.

In addition to Woodson, a Pro Bowl free safety, and Ismail and Sharpe, the team's two leading receivers last season, the Ravens will release defensive linemen Rob Burnett and Larry Webster; offensive lineman Kip Vickers; and fullback Sam Gash. The group also includes defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, who already announced his retirement.

Newsome said all but Siragusa could be brought back after June 1 for far smaller salaries.

Salary cap issues
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The Ravens will also decline to make offers to three restricted free agents: running back Obafemi Ayanbadejo, linebacker Brad Jackson and kicker Danny Kight, allowing them to become unrestricted free agents. The team also declined to pick up the option of offensive tackle Leon Searcy.

Combined with the loss of linebacker Jamie Sharper and kick returner Jermaine Lewis, selected last week by the expansion Houston Texans, the Ravens have jettisoned more than a quarter of the 53-man roster that participated in their 34-7 victory against the New York Giants in January 2001.

By stockpiling talent last season for another run at the Super Bowl, Baltimore found itself around $20 million over the salary cap this winter.

"We knew that we would be facing some serious cap issues in 2002, but the opportunity to win two Super Bowls in a row was overwhelming to us," Newsome said. "What we're facing today is not something that's unexpected. I think everybody is ready for the challenge, to get this football team back where it was before."

Having Sharpe and Woodson, who contributed leadership and solid numbers, would help. Newsome said he would attempt to re-sign both stars after June 1, when their hit against the salary cap would not be as substantial.

Newsome said he would also offer contracts to the players, other than Siragusa, released this week.

"We're leaving the door open for them to come back when we can create the cap room," Newsome said. "All of the guys, with the exception of Goose, still have football left in them."

But even if some of those players do come back, this team will be decidedly different from the one that won the Super Bowl and this season advanced to the AFC semifinals before losing to Pittsburgh.

Having cleared house, the Ravens don't expect to fill the void with free agents who become available when the other NFL teams make cuts Thursday.

"We will not be very active when free agency starts," Newsome said. "We will not have the cap room at this point to be able to go after anyone."

Besides the players waived and those lost to Houston, the Ravens will also be without defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, who signed with the Washington Redskins earlier this month.

"When you look at the Baltimore Ravens, yes, we're in transition," Newsome said. "But it's going to be a lot of fun because we've got a lot of good young football players that are going to be able to come in and play even better."

Related information
SI's Don Banks: Elvis hasn't left the Ravens -- yet
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