Ravens, Mulitalo close to big deal

Offensive lineman is near re-signing for 5 to 7 years

Blake is likely free agent

Billick still sees QB returning

Stewart and Delhomme are among other options

Plummer, Griese ruled out

Pro Football

February 25, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens are optimistic about signing left guard Edwin Mulitalo to a new contract this week but expect quarterback Jeff Blake to test the free-agent market.

With the NFL's free-agency period beginning Friday, Mulitalo and the Ravens are closing in on a five- to seven-year deal that would keep the four-year starter from becoming an unrestricted free agent. The move would solidify the left side of the offensive line, where Mulitalo, 28, has forged a mauling combination with All-Pro tackle Jonathan Ogden.

"I have every reason to believe that Edwin will be done very quickly," Ravens coach Brian Billick said yesterday.

Mulitalo's preference to stay with the Ravens rather than explore the free-agent waters has quickened the pace of negotiations.

"We may be tipping our hand, but Ed has said he wanted to get a deal done in Baltimore from the start," said Ed Cunningham, Mulitalo's agent. "He told me, `If I can retire a Raven, I'll be a happy man.' "

Contract talks with Blake have not moved as swiftly.

Team officials have negotiated with Blake's agent, Ralph Cindrich, at the NFL's scouting combine in Indianapolis, but it appears unlikely a deal will be finalized by the end of the week. Although Blake would become an unrestricted free agent on Friday, the Ravens consider themselves the front-runners to re-sign him.

"It's all about a process," Billick said. "I'm very comfortable with the fact that Jeff wants to be here and Jeff knows that we want him to be here. Ralph and [Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome] will go through the normal process of trying to determine what the equitable way is to get it done. And I'm confident that we'll get it done."

After replacing injured Chris Redman as the Ravens' starter, Blake went 4-6 in the final 10 games. The 32-year-old quarterback completed 56 percent of his passes for 2,084 yards, with 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

The Ravens would like Blake to return because of his knowledge of the system and the importance of continuity at quarterback. Though Blake is their preference, the Ravens have alternate plans if the 11-year veteran signs elsewhere.

In that case, the Ravens would consider free-agent quarterbacks Kordell Stewart and Jake Delhomme.

Last week, league sources said the Ravens were not interested in Stewart as they put all their efforts into retaining Blake. But Stewart, who is slated to be a salary cap cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, is a part of the Ravens' backup plan, league sources said.

Stewart's turbulent career with the Steelers included two trips to the AFC championship game as well as the team's two worst seasons since the 1980s. He likely would consider signing with the Ravens because he would have two shots each year at the Steelers.

Delhomme, the New Orleans Saints' backup last season, will be an unrestricted free agent and likely will draw interest from a handful of teams despite being untested.

In four seasons, he has completed 50 of 86 passes (58.1 percent) for 634 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions. Many league observers say Delhomme is in the same mold as Redman.

The Ravens are also monitoring St. Louis' Kurt Warner and Jacksonville's Mark Brunell, who are both expected to remain with their teams despite high salary cap numbers.

The team, however, has no interest in pending free agents Jake Plummer and Brian Griese. Plummer is believed to be overrated, and Griese wouldn't be a good fit because his cold personality reminds too many of Elvis Grbac, league observers said.

"Until that contract is signed, you have to do your due diligence in case something unforeseen happens," Billick said. "As confident as I am that Jeff will get done, we have to research on all the other quarterbacks that are potentially available."

If the Ravens seal the Mulitalo deal, they will return four starters on the offensive line and only need to plug their hole at right tackle. The team could look to the draft to fill that void and use the 10th pick to select Stanford's Kwame Harris or Utah's Jordan Gross.

Another option to add depth to the line is former Raven Orlando Brown.

He was hurt on Dec. 19, 1999, when referee Jeff Triplette threw a penalty flag that struck Brown's right eye. Brown went to the sideline, then came back on the field and pushed Triplette to the ground. Cleveland cut Brown in September 2000 and he has not played since the freak injury.

A decision on Brown is not imminent.

"Are we interested? Sure," Billick said. "We can see what comes of it. I have no predisposition not to have Orlando here. I know Ozzie has a relationship with him. That has some potential."

NOTES: The Ravens have an offer on the table for receiver Brandon Stokley, who will become an unrestricted free agent Friday. ... Billick has talked with defensive end Michael McCrary about becoming an assistant coach in training camp. He's expected to announce his retirement in June. ... The Miami Dolphins have contacted return specialist Jermaine Lewis about possibly signing. The Ravens also have expressed an interest in bringing back the former Pro Bowl returner who was recently cut by the Houston Texans.

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