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OWINGS MILLS — The Baltimore Ravens are inching toward their goal of signing every rookie draft pick prior to the launch of training camp Sunday when players report to the team hotel in Westminster.
The defending AFC North champions signed fifth-round offensive tackle Jared Gaither and sixth-round linebacker Prescott Burgess to three-year contracts with minimum base salaries of $285,000 in 2007, $370,000 in 2008 and $460,000 in 2009. Burgess received a $57,000 signing bonus.
Meanwhile, the Ravens are optimistic about their chances of striking a deal with first-round draft pick Ben Grubbs, an offensive guard from Auburn selected 29th overall, prior to the first practice Monday morning at McDaniel College. It would break a streak of holdouts for the Ravens’ first-round draft pick as tight end Todd Heap (2001) is the last Baltimore first-rounder to agree to terms before practice opened.
Under the NFL slotting principle, the Ravens’ chances of signing Grubbs were boosted significantly by the fact that the No. 28 overall pick — San Francisco 49ers rookie offensive tackle Joe Staley — is already under contract.
Staley recently signed a five-year contract, $8 million contract that carries a maximum value of $10.9 million if every incentive clause is triggered. The deal includes $5.6 million in guaranteed money.
Grubbs is likely to receive a deal slightly lower than Staley’s numbers, one that also represents an increase over the money received by last year’s No. 29 overall pick: New York Jets center Nick Mangold. Mangold signed a five-year, $7.4 million contract that included $4.8 million in guaranteed money.
The Ravens have been steadily negotiating with Grubbs’ agent, Pat Dye Jr., the son of former Auburn coach Pat Dye. He has a reputation for usually getting first-round picks into camp on time.
By signing Gaither and Burgess with earlier deals with offensive tackle Marshal Yanda (Iowa) and linebacker Antwan Barnes (Florida International), the Ravens have four remaining draft picks to agree to terms with before camp. That includes: Grubbs, third-round return specialist/wide receiver Yamon Figurs (Kansas State), fourth-round fullback Le’Ron McClain (Alabama) and fifth-round quarterback Troy Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State.
"It’s very exciting to sign my first NFL contract, because it’s a dream come true," Burgess said Monday in a telephone interview from Ann Arbor, Mich. "Now, I just have to show the coaches the physical part and the mental part. I’m really looking forward to training camp."
Burgess was an All-Big Ten Conference honorable-mention selection, recording 192 career tackles along with four sacks and four interceptions. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Warren, Ohio native was recruited to Michigan as a safety, but outgrew the position.
Gaither was selected in the supplemental draft earlier this month after being declared academically ineligible to play this fall at the University of Maryland. The 6-foot-9, 340-pounder started 17 games in two seasons at Maryland, setting a Terrapins offensive line record with a 36-inch vertical leap.
"All the parties involve believe it’s a win-win situation," said Kevin Pompey, Gaither’s agent. "Jared is excited about being a Raven and he can’t wait to get to training camp. It’s good to have everything finalized nice and early."
NOTE: The Ravens hired David Blackburn as a player personnel assistant. He’s a former Depauw University football captain and was a graduate assistant at Butler College (Ind.).
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.