- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2000

OWINGS MILLS, Md. Money, money, money, money.

To hear both sides of the story, the reason why Shannon Sharpe no longer plays in Denver is strictly a monetary issue and not a personality clash.

Sharpe admitted yesterday after the Baltimore Ravens' practice that he had his differences with Broncos coach Mike Shanahan. But the future Hall of Famer refrained from saying Shanahan was the reason he left Denver after 10 glorious seasons. He said it was simply a business decision.

Shanahan said the Broncos made a fair offer and Sharpe turned it down, but the coach wouldn't elaborate about the on-field differences he had with his star tight end. In a conference call yesterday, Shanahan had nothing but praise for his former player and denied that they had a strained relationship.

On Sunday at PSINet Stadium, Sharpe and Shanahan will get reacquainted when the Broncos (11-5) take on the Ravens (12-4) in an AFC wild card game.

"Nowadays, people just think for some reason there was a discrepancy with a coach or player, and Shannon is one of the greatest players to ever put on a Denver uniform," said Shanahan of the reason why the Broncos did not re-sign Sharpe during the offseason. "I hate to let a guy like that go. We made a solid offer, and the money got so great relative to the salary cap that we felt we couldn't go there and still put our best team together."

No problem for the Ravens, who had no salary cap constraints. Last February, owner Art Modell made the seven-time Pro Bowl choice the NFL's richest tight end with a four-year, $13.2 million deal that included a $4.5 million signing bonus.

Goodbye, Colorado.

"I was surprised, but then I wasn't surprised," Sharpe said when the Broncos told him he wasn't coming back. "I spent 10 years there, and I said I would probably end my career there. But it just didn't work out."

If Shanahan thought Sharpe, 31, was on the downside of his career, he was mistaken. This season Sharpe was named as a first alternate to the Pro Bowl. The 6-foot-2, 232-pounder was the Ravens' leading receiver with 67 for 810 yards (12.1 average) and five touchdowns.

Production is what started the rift between Sharpe and Shanahan. Shanahan wanted to decrease Sharpe's role in the Broncos' offense. Sharpe, whose 619 lifetime receptions are the second most by a tight end in NFL history, didn't agree.

Sharpe says he harbors no animosity toward the Broncos and that a piece of him will always remain in their locker room.

"They gave me my first opportunity in this league," Sharpe said. "I haven't forgot my old family. I appreciate everything that they did for me in 10 years. Denver will always be special."

Sharpe has two Super Bowl rings from his days with the Broncos, a rare commodity inside the Ravens' locker room. Sharpe left the Broncos as their all-time receiving yardage leader and tied for the franchise's all-time mark with 44 receiving touchdowns.

Despite his kind feelings toward the Broncos, Sharpe wants to prove they made a mistake. For eight years, Sharpe was John Elway's favorite target and a big reason why the Broncos won Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998.

Sharpe expects plenty of trash-talking this Sunday. That's the least he can do for his old teammates.

"If I don't say anything, the guys are going to be disappointed," Sharpe said. "They are going to say. 'This is not the Shannon that I know.' We're going to be jawing."

Note Ravens punt returner Jermaine Lewis was named AFC special teams player of the week for his two second-half punt returns for touchdowns in last Sunday's 34-20 win over the New York Jets. This is the third time Lewis has won the award; he is the sixth Raven to win AFC player of the week honors this season. In addition to Lewis' award, kicker Matt Stover was named AFC special teams player of the month and running back Jamal Lewis AFC offensive rookie of the month for their play in November.

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