- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2002

Ozzie Newsome has benefited as much as any NFL executive from free agency.
Now Baltimore's vice president of football operations is experiencing the downside in a big way. The salary cap forced the Ravens to release tight end Shannon Sharpe, safety Rod Woodson, receiver Qadry Ismail, defensive end Rob Burnett and guard Kipp Vickers yesterday before today's deadline for getting under the league's $71.1 million cap.
The departures of those five starters came on top of Baltimore's cap-related losses of linebacker Jamie Sharper and kick returner Jermaine Lewis to Houston in last month's expansion draft and the retirement of defensive tackle Tony Siragusa in January.
"The system helped us win the Super Bowl because we were able to sign Shannon, Rod, [end] Mike McCrary and [defensive tackle] Sam Adams," Newsome said of the Ravens' key free agent signees of the 1997, 1998 and 2000 offseasons. "But it also prevents you from keeping your team together for more than a couple of years.
"It's like college," Newsome added. "You're starting over every four years. We retained 20 of our 22 starters and all our specialists after the Super Bowl year [2000] in order to take another run at it. Any regrets I have about what's happening now disappear when I look at my Super Bowl ring."
Future Hall of Famers Sharpe and Woodson and fellow thirtysomethings Ismail and Burnett aren't the only big names who have enhanced the pool of talent available for today's start of the free agent signing period.
Jessie Armstead, Ed McDaniel, Kevin Hardy and Stephen Boyd, all Pro Bowl linebackers, were cut by the New York Giants, Minnesota, Jacksonville and Detroit, respectively. Seattle did the same to Pro Bowl end Michael Sinclair, as did Arizona to oft-injured Pro Bowl receiver Rob Moore.
The Vikings waived Pro Bowl punter Mitch Berger. Atlanta axed quarterback Chris Chandler and its all-time leading receiver, Terance Mathis. Tennessee let go Pro Bowl safety Blaine Bishop, and Dallas bid goodbye to Pro Bowl center Mark Stepnoski.
The additions of Sinclair, Burnett and Detroit's Tracy Scroggins mean that St. Louis' Leonard Little, who had 14 sacks in part-time duty last year, isn't the only top end on the market. New Orleans' La'Roi Glover is the class at defensive tackle, followed by Oakland's Grady Jackson, Green Bay's Santana Dotson and Washington's Kenard Lang.
There is also some quality among the offensive linemen beyond Stepnoski, even if seven-time Pro Bowl tackle Lomas Brown, cut by the Giants yesterday, is about to be 39. Centers Olin Kreutz of Chicago and Jeremy Newberry of San Francisco are Pro Bowl material. Giants guard Ron Stone has been to Hawaii, and guard Kerry Jenkins of the New York Jets and the Redskins' trio of guard Ben Coleman, center Cory Raymer and guard Dave Szott are solid performers. Arizona tackle Anthony Clement is intriguing because of his 6-foot-8, 351-pound body.
But how many teams shopping for a quarterback are going to be excited about the battered 36-year-old Chandler, Buffalo's Rob Johnson, Chicago's Jim Miller or Washington's Tony Banks? They're the only available passers who were starters most of last season.
Chicago's R.W. McQuarters and Baltimore's Duane Starks lead a thin group of cornerbacks that includes Evans, Carolina's Jimmy Hitchcock and the Colts' Jeff Burris. Dallas Pro Bowl perennial Darren Woodson is the top safety, but Chicago's Tony Parrish, San Francisco's Lance Schulters, Miami's Brian Walker, Denver's Eric Brown and Arizona's Pat Tillman are younger alternatives, unlike Bishop, Detroit's Kurt Schulz and Baltimore's Woodson.
Sharpe, Dilger, San Diego's Freddie Jones, Washington's Stephen Alexander, Detroit's David Sloan, Tampa Bay's Dave Moore, Minnesota's Byron Chamberlin, New Orleans' Cam Cleeland, San Francisco's Greg Clark and Seattle's Christian Fauria make tight end one of the deepest positions on the market. Mathis, Ismail, Green Bay's Bill Schroeder, St. Louis' Az Hakim, New Orleans' Willie Jackson, Carolina's Donald Hayes, Detroit's Germane Crowell, Washington's Michael Westbrook and San Diego's Jeff Graham are the headline receivers.
There's depth at linebacker beyond the aging ex-Pro Bowl picks with the Jets' James Farrior and Marvin Jones, Pittsburgh's Earl Holmes, St. Louis' London Fletcher, Green Bay's Bernardo Harris and Washington's Shawn Barber.
Seattle's Ricky Watters, who missed most of 2001 with injuries, is the most proven back, but Antowain Smith, who resurrected his career for Super Bowl champion New England last year, likely will draw the most attention. Miami's Lamar Smith, a revelation in 2000 and a bust in 2001, is available, as are Arizona's Michael Pittman and Chicago's James Allen.
Other than Berger, Jacksonville kicker Mike Hollis and Miami punter Matt Turk, the specialist market is an over-the-hill group that includes fortysomethings Morten Andersen of the New York Giants, Gary Anderson of the Vikings and Sean Landeta of the Eagles.


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