JUDGE notes: Raiders get a safety clause

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Clark Judge

The Oakland Raiders signed safety Rod Woodson on Tuesday, but let¿s get a couple of things straight. Don¿t they already have a decent starter in free safety Anthony Dorsett? And wasn¿t last year¿s No. 1 draft choice, Derrick Gibson, primed to take over at strong safety? That¿s a big 10-4 on both questions, but Woodson¿s arrival has nothing to do with replacing Dorsett or Gibson — at least for the moment — and everything to do with providing the secondary with experience that could, and should, benefit Dorsett, Gibson and the Raiders. ¿We¿re very happy with what we have,¿ said secondary coach Ron Lynn, ¿but Rod was someone at a price we could afford and someone who can be a little bit of a mentor to our young guys. ¿He¿s a guy with experience and ability, and he still has a year or so left. But the experience was crucial for us. He¿s a great communicator, and he¿ll be able to help control some of the defenses in terms of the calls.¿ Veteran Eric Allen could have served that purpose, but as a cornerback he wasn¿t in position. Plus, he¿s expected to retire this year. So, that leaves a void that Woodson — who played his last four years with Baltimore — can and should fill. The addition of a 37-year-old defensive back is not unusual for the Raiders. In fact, it¿s downright typical. Earlier this year, they signed free-agent linebacker Bill Romanowski, who turned 36 in early April; last year, they signed defensive end Trace Armstrong, now 36; and last year they signed wide receiver Jerry Rice, who turns 40 in October. ¿It was,¿ said Lynn, ¿a chance to get a good player.¿ With Woodson named to the NFL¿s 75th anniversary team, you¿d think he¿d be a lock as a starter but he¿s not. Instead, Lynn said, he will ¿compete¿ for the free-safety position. With over four months until the start of the 2002 season, there¿s plenty of time to figure out the depth chart. The Raiders aren¿t in any hurry, believing they¿re satisfactorily stocked at safety with Johnnie Harris, Gibson, Dorsett and, now, Woodson. ¿We think it¿s a no-lose situation,¿ said Lynn. Expect Lynn and Woodson to hit it off immediately. Lynn goes back years with Woodson, first meeting him at the Hula Bowl when Woodson was a senior — with Lynn and his wife, Cynthia, taking Woodson to lunch. Lynn also coached Woodson at the Pro Bowl two years ago.

Holding the Cards

Arizona general manager Bob Ferguson doesn¿t have a contract, but he does have a job and it doesn¿t look as if that will change. Ferguson¿s future has been the subject of speculation since his contract expired last Thursday, but the Cards don¿t appear to be interested in moving on without him. Good for them. But that doesn¿t mean owner Bill Bidwill is talking contract; he¿s not. But there are others within the organization working without contracts, and working without a contract might just suit someone like Ferguson. Having a contract would prevent him from talking to other clubs — as it did last year. If Ferguson has an offer to go elsewhere he could listen without having first to seek permission. ¿As far as I know I¿m going to be here,¿ said Ferguson. ¿There¿s been a lot of speculation, but I¿m still here.¿ The Cards would be wise to keep Ferguson, who, along with coach Dave McGinnis, is turning Arizona into one of the league¿s more intriguing franchises.

Duce is the ace

Don¿t look for the Philadelphia Eagles to replace injured running back Correll Buckhalter soon. The club had free agent Dorsey Levens in on Monday and will meet with free agent Ki-Jana Carter at an undetermined future date. Levens makes more sense than Carter, not only because he and Eagles coach Andy Reid were together in Green Bay, but because Carter¿s knees and Veterans Stadium turf don¿t exactly go together. Look for the Eagles to wait until June 1 before acting on a back, signing a free agent or acquiring one by trade. The key to any acquisition is this: The club is sold on Duce Staley as its No. 1 back and won¿t hire someone to challenge him for the position. Whoever signs on does so as a supporting actor to Staley.

Ravens talking contracts

The Baltimore Ravens began their search for a right tackle when they met with free-agent offensive lineman Marcus Spears on Tuesday. Spears, who can play guard or tackle, started 18 games in his five-year career with Kansas City, including 16 last season. It is unclear how serious the Ravens are about Spears, but team executive Ozzie Newsome said the two sides are talking contract. The club also is in the middle of talks with linebackers Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware to extend their contracts and won¿t do anything with free-agent defensive tackle Sam Adams until either of those deals is resolved.

Roaming Phifer?

Apparently, linebacker Roman Phifer will be staying in New England. There were reports several weeks ago that Phifer reached an agreement with the Oakland Raiders, but the Raiders say that they not only don¿t have an agreement with Phifer but expect him to re-sign with New England. According to sources within the Raiders, the deal with New England is all but done. Phifer visited the Raiders, and the club had interest in him, dating back to last year when he was a free agent, but the two never reached an agreement.

Lewis back on track

The Baltimore Ravens weren¿t thrilled with running back Jamal Lewis¿ weight at last weekend¿s mini-camp, but they liked everything else about him. Lewis is returning from a knee injury that sidelined him the entire 2001 season, and the Ravens say he is right on schedule. ¿He can drop his hips, change direction and he still has the good vision,¿ said Newsome. ¿Some of his natural football abilities showed up right away.¿ Unfortunately, so did the extra weight. The Ravens aren¿t saying how much Lewis is overweight, but they made it clear he needs to lose it. Lewis jogged with a noticeable limp at Saturday¿s practices, but the Ravens aren¿t concerned. ¿He had the limp before,¿ said Newsome. ¿People forget he walked the same way two years ago.¿ Lewis is expected to participate in the team¿s passing camp on May 20 and to be ready for the opening of training camp in late July. The bottom line: ¿We¿re very well pleased with his progress,¿ said Newsome.

Rumph rebuttal

The knock on cornerback Mike Rumph, San Francisco¿s first-round draft pick, was that he couldn¿t play off receivers. The 49ers think that¿s hogwash. The club studied Rumph¿s 1999 and 2000 videotapes, and defensive coordinator Jim Mora is a friend of Cleveland secondary coach Chuck Pagano, who coached Rumph his first three years at the University of Miami. Both told them Rumph should be fine when he¿s not in bump-and-run coverage. ¿People think he can¿t play off receivers because they didn¿t ask him to last year,¿ said Mora. ¿They didn¿t ask (Phillip) Buchanon, either. They played the Miami Dolphins¿ defense. The truth of the matter is: He¿s very good playing off receivers.¿ Rumph¿s addition gives the 49ers the third cornerback they need to cover St. Louis¿ receivers when the Rams go to four and five wide receivers.

Elvis lives?

At least one source close to Elvis Grbac thinks the quarterback is serious about not playing this season. But, he said, he thinks Grbac will end his self-imposed retirement next year. Grbac retired earlier this year after he was released by the Ravens and turned down an offer from Cincinnati. The Ravens wanted Grbac back, but only if he agreed to take a pay cut. Grbac refused, forcing the club to release him. Clark Judge can be reached at his e-mail address:
Tagged: Broncos, Packers, Chiefs, Raiders, Rams, Eagles, 49ers, Ravens, Dorsey Levens, Marcus Spears, Derrick Gibson, Jerry Rice, Correll Buckhalter, Duce Staley, Jamal Lewis, Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware

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