Ravens bring Blake aboard for one year

QB meets with team, signs $750,000 contract to back up Redman

`In my mind, I'm the starter'

Veteran is Ravens' first free-agent acquisition since cap purge in March

Pro Football

April 25, 2002|By Jamison Hensley and Brent Jones | Jamison Hensley and Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

The Ravens didn't let their first free-agent visitor of this off-season leave the building.

Shortly after meeting with team officials yesterday, quarterback Jeff Blake quickly signed a one-year deal for the NFL veteran minimum of $750,000. Blake represents the team's first free-agent addition since their salary cap purge in early March.

Ravens officials remain publicly committed to Chris Redman as their starter and have penciled in Blake as the backup heading into tomorrow's three-day minicamp. Blake, 31, provides much-needed veteran insurance behind Redman, who has thrown only three passes in two NFL seasons.

"This is not an open competition," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "But by the same token, Chris understands - that really in the NFL environment - there is no such thing as not an open competition. We anticipate, hope and are working toward Chris Redman being our starting quarterback. We have a great deal of confidence in that.

"But obviously, the presence of a Jeff Blake gives us a great deal of comfort in knowing that there is someone of that caliber sitting behind Chris if [Redman can't play] due to injury or other circumstances."

A salary cap casualty with the New Orleans Saints on March 1, Blake signed with the understanding that Redman is the starter for now. But he chose the Ravens over three other teams because he sees an opportunity to play down the line.

There have been four starting quarterback changes in Billick's 54-game tenure with the Ravens.

"I'm competing every day," Blake said. "In my mind, I'm the starter. But until they tell me otherwise, he's the starter. But I'm going to go out there and push and do the things I know. I'm going to be the leader that I've always been, the team player that I've always been. I have a lot of experience I can give to the receivers and to whoever else I'm playing with."

The signing of Blake would appear to eliminate any chance of re-signing Randall Cunningham, last year's backup who was 2-0 for the Ravens as a starter.

"I don't need to point out my affection for Randall," said Billick, who has coached Cunningham for three seasons. "Randall was prepared to come in. Randall is 40, Jeff is 31. Randall was great for us. We had to think long and hard about what Randall could bring to us, his familiarity with me and the system. But Jeff's age and where he is at in his career right now just seemed to be a better fit for our purposes right now."

Oddly enough, Cunningham spoke with Billick yesterday and seemed optimistic about the chances of returning to the Ravens as the third-string quarterback. Currently, the Ravens' No. 3 quarterback is Wes Pate, a recent seventh-round draft pick.

"I know they still have salary cap problems, but I want to be a mentor to Chris," Cunningham said from his Las Vegas home. "I came in as third string last year so I'd do it again."

Like Redman, Blake spent a majority of last season on the sideline. He threw only one pass last year as a Saints backup.

In the 2000 season, Blake threw for 2,025 yards, 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions in leading the Saints to a 7-3 record before fracturing and dislocating his left foot. Aaron Brooks took over and remained the Saints' starter the next season.

Coming from that situation in New Orleans, Blake was encouraged about his role with the Ravens after meeting with Billick.

"I can play for a man that lets you know exactly where you stand, and it is up to you to go out and do the things you need to do to perform," Blake said. "He's going to see to that. If you are that person, he's going to make sure you are out there playing. He's all about winning, not politics."

Since Blake agreed to a minimum deal, only $450,000 will be counted against the Ravens' salary cap because of a new rule in the league's collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association.

"It is proven each year that you have two quarterbacks to get through an NFL season," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' senior vice president of football operations. "It was proven last year when Randall had to come in and win two games for us. We think Jeff will provide that for us if Chris remains the starter."

NOTES: The Ravens continue to negotiate with defensive tackle Larry Webster. He would be a June 1 addition for the Ravens. The Jets have reportedly expressed interest in Webster, too. ... Former Ravens defensive tackle Sam Adams has visited the Houston Texans and drawn interest from the Cincinnati Bengals. ... Other undrafted free agents expected to report to minicamp tomorrow are guard Jim Walker (Utah State), linebackers Rod Taylor (Alabama-Birmingham) and Bart Scott (Southern Illinois), defensive tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu (Utah), running back Dameon Hunter (Utah) and offensive lineman Dawani Fladger (South Carolina State).

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