Ravens seek clarity with Blake

QB's agent says money, team's words don't match

February 26, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Two days before the start of free agency, the Ravens and quarterback Jeff Blake are trying to clear up some mixed signals.

While the team has repeatedly expressed its intentions to bring Blake back, Blake's agent said the Ravens' only contract proposal was not market value for a starter. Ralph Cindrich, who represents the 11-year veteran, sent his first counteroffer yesterday that could yield starter's money for Blake if certain incentives are met.

"They are not presenting a starter-type contract," Cindrich said. "There may be some way to get it done with more risk to the player. What was important for me ... is that they made it clear that they want Jeff back. Still, you have to have the want there."

The Ravens, though, have to be wary about bidding against themselves and overspending for a quarterback who might have limited options on the open market. The primary teams expected to be shopping for a quarterback when free agency opens are the Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos.

Of the quarterbacks who are expected to be available Friday, the Ravens don't see much difference between Blake and Kordell Stewart. But the team would prefer to stick with Blake because he has spent a year in the system.

To again stress that point, coach Brian Billick is scheduled to meet with Blake this week. It is believed Billick will fly to Blake's home in Austin, Texas.

"Jeff knows what our perspective is, and I believe he is comfortable with that," Billick said. "He and I are going to talk again this week to reiterate to him what our profile will be going into the season. I think he will be and is very comfortable with that.

"We're obviously looking at other options if, for whatever reason, this doesn't go down. But I can't conceive of that happening."

Although both sides refused to comment on numbers, Blake is probably seeking a contract that will pay him nearly $2 million a season. The Ravens are likely offering a deal closer to $1 million each year.

It could mark the second straight year that Blake becomes a free agent. Last year, he remained on the market until April 24, when he signed with the Ravens.

He started the final 10 games for the Ravens last season and finished with a 77.3 quarterback rating, 13th in the AFC, ahead of only San Diego's Drew Brees (76.9), Cleveland's Tim Couch (76.8) and Houston's David Carr (62.8).

"We've placed our value on what we think Jeff's worth is to the Baltimore Ravens," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "We're in the process of negotiating with Ralph to come to a compromise that would be workable both for he and Jeff and this organization."

Billick would prefer not to have a quarterback competition and has hinted that Blake would become the Ravens' starter.

The team appears uncertain of Chris Redman, who started the first six games of the 2002 season before suffering a season-ending back injury. A month removed from surgery, Redman is on target to participate in all the offseason camps.

Until Blake signs, Billick is refusing to name a starter or declare an open competition for the job.

"When Jeff is a member of this team, we will be more definitive as to where we are with that," Billick said. "What's important is Jeff and I have an understanding of what his role with the team will be."

Blake's agent just wants more assurance that Blake, who is his oldest client, will be the team's starter.

"We're going to work hard to get it done," Cindrich said. "We really want to make this happen."

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