Ravens likely to bring back Blake to start

Redman as backup QB appears to be 2003 plan

free agents a possibility

`A lot of unanswered questions'

Team might be intrigued by Warner or Stewart

receiver to be addressed

January 09, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

A day after their annual personnel meeting, the Ravens spoke boldly about a return to the playoffs and hinted at the return of Jeff Blake as their starting quarterback.

Although Ravens officials sidestepped questions about their quarterback plans at yesterday's news conference, the most likely scenario being discussed at this point is bringing back Blake as the starter and keeping Chris Redman as the backup.

"There are still a lot of variables, [but] I will say this: I have a great deal of confidence in Jeff Blake's ability to win for this club, as I do with a Chris Redman," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "But between now and March 1 [the start of free agency], there are still a lot of unanswered questions."

Those questions center on Blake's contract status and Redman's health.

Blake, 32, becomes an unrestricted free agent in March, and the Ravens have yet to begin substantial talks with him or their 11 other pending free agents. But the team likely will retain him with an incentive-laden deal and don't anticipate another team topping their offer.

The positive with Blake is that the Ravens don't have to tailor their offense because he can make any throw with his arm strength. Plus, he has been in the system for a year.

The negative is his problem with turnovers. In 10 starts, Blake threw 11 interceptions and fumbled eight times.

Blake has said he would like to return but doesn't want to come back to a situation where there's an open competition for the starting quarterback job. For that reason, if he re-signed, Blake probably would enter training camp as the starter and Redman would have the remote chance to unseat him with minimal reps with the first team.

The problem with relying on Redman too much is the uncertainty of his back injury. The first-year starter was 3-3 before missing the rest of the season with a herniated disc.

Redman, 25, who is on vacation, will have surgery within the next two weeks. The rehabilitation is expected to take less than two months, but the Ravens are worried about his medical status.

"As we approach free agency, I don't know that we'll have a definitive answer [with Redman], even though we'll be optimistic," Billick said.

The other part of this formula is free agency. The expected quarterback crop is not spectacular, but potential salary cap casualties could spice it up.

Although the Ravens probably would not show interest in the likes of Arizona's Jake Plummer or Denver's Brian Griese, they might be intrigued by St. Louis' Kurt Warner or Pittsburgh's Kordell Stewart. And re-signing Blake would not prohibit the Ravens from going after another quarterback.

Another focus would be at receiver. The Ravens probably would jump at the chance to sign Arizona free agent David Boston.

"[Pro personnel director] James Harris and his staff are involved right now with looking at all of the potential unrestricted free agents," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "I can tell you that there is probably going to be 50 or 70 other guys that are going to be available because of the salary cap, but we are ready. We are poised, and we have the cap room."

With an estimated $17 million in cap room, the Ravens believe they can make the jump from a 7-9 team to the playoffs.

The other issues discussed:

Slapping the franchise tag on cornerback Chris McAlister.

He will be an unrestricted free agent on March 1, but the Ravens will not let him reach the open market. They will use the tag - which amounts to a one-year, $5.9 million contract - if negotiations for a long-term deal reach an impasse. The team can name him as its franchise player from Feb. 10 to 27.

"The reason why that will be used is because the Baltimore Ravens want Chris McAlister to be on this football team, not only for 2003, but for as long as he's playing at a high level," Newsome said.

Adding a pass rusher to replace Michael McCrary, who is expected to retire.

"There's an old adage: `You always put a premium on guys who touch the ball or touch the quarterback,' " Billick said.

Another acquisition on defense could be at safety, which would keep Gary Baxter at cornerback. A free agent like Jacksonville strong safety Donovin Darius would be a good fit.

Keeping stability in the front office. Although Harris is interviewing for the Jaguars' general manager job and Ravens director of college scouting Phil Savage could be next, the Ravens stressed they are ready to make any transition.

Making a successful final run for owner Art Modell. This likely will be the last season for Modell because minority owner Steve Bisciotti is expected to exercise his $325 million option to purchase the rest of the team's shares in January 2004.

"I want to go out on top," Modell said.

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