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Raiders Hold On to Brown : Pro football: Team decides to match Denver's "obnoxious" $11-million offer.


In the end, it was an offer the Raiders could not refuse.

Five days after receiving an offer sheet that restricted free agent Tim Brown had signed with the Denver Broncos, the Raiders matched it, giving the wide receiver $11 million over the next four years.

The Raiders must adhere to every condition of the contract signed with the Broncos, which includes $2.75 million in the first year, a no-trade clause and a guarantee on the money paid in the final year.

Steve Ortmayer, the Raiders' director of football operations, referred to several of the conditions as "a little bit obnoxious."

But the team felt it was worth the price to hang onto their leading receiver.

The retention of Brown came 24 hours after the Raiders spent $4.5 million to sign cornerback Albert Lewis, an unrestricted free agent, for three years.

"So now we've got Albert Lewis and Tim Brown," owner Al Davis said. "Pretty good, huh?"

Not so good for others who wear the silver and black. Now operating like all other teams under a salary cap of $33.9 million, the Raiders will have to cut back at other spots on the roster.

"It's going to get harder and harder to keep our excellent, older players," Davis said. "Somewhere along the way, it's a matter of them taking drastic cuts or letting them go. Nothing's based on loyalty anymore. It's just money."

The first casualty could be seldom-used veteran receiver Willie Gault, who will be 34 at the start of next season.

There was a lot of optimism in the Denver camp that Brown would be in a Bronco uniform, especially when he announced, after visiting Denver last week, that that was where he wanted to stay and that he was working with Bronco officials to design an offer sheet the Raiders would not match.

But, the Raiders insist, there are no hard feelings.

"He's said publicly many times he wanted to be a Raider too," Ortmayer said.

"All he did was use the system," Davis said.

"It's hard not to be happy," Brown said. "Let's be honest here. I was trying to get the best deal I could get for myself.

"The bottom line is, this is the business part of football. Now, it's time to go play football."

It was the way he played football last season that enabled Brown to dictate his price. In his sixth season, he emerged as one of the league's premier receivers. He had career high totals in catches (80, a team record for a wide receiver) and yards (1,180 to lead the AFC). Brown also caught seven touchdown passes and scored one more on a punt return.

After losing to the Raiders three times last season, including the first round of the playoffs, the Broncos wanted nothing more than to strengthen themselves while weakening their division rivals. But, Denver Coach Wade Phillips maintained, his side was realistic.

"I don't think we went into it thinking we were going to get Tim Brown," Phillips said. "We can hope. . . . It's disappointing, but it's a two-edged sword. We didn't get Tim Brown, so we stuck them with the other end."

The Raiders, of course, see it a bit differently.

"They can't beat us," Davis said. "On the field or off."

Times staff writer Mike Downey contributed to this story.

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