Ravens avert Fuller flyby, landing deal

1st free agent to hit town signs three-year contract, leaves Patriots high, dry

Defensive back also eyed as safety

Chargers trying to grab Boston before receiver's expected trip here today

March 05, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

After refusing to let defensive back Corey Fuller leave unsigned, the Ravens are eager to get receiver David Boston in the building.

The team had to rush to secure its first unrestricted free agent of the year, signing a three-year deal with Fuller yesterday before he could head for another visit with the New England Patriots. The contract is believed to be worth $4.5 million, which includes a $1.5 million signing bonus.

Now, the Ravens are waiting to see if Boston gets away from the San Diego Chargers unsigned and makes his flight today to Baltimore.

When asked if there was a chance that Boston - who is considered the best receiver available in free agency - would not make his scheduled visit with the Ravens, his agent, Mitch Frankel, said from San Diego, "That's not what we're planning, but there's always a possibility."

The Ravens were taking no chances with Fuller, who was their first free-agent visitor of the year.

Over the course of yesterday afternoon, Ravens coach Brian Billick paced the hallways of the team's Owings Mills practice complex to keep close tabs on how quickly Fuller and the Ravens were hammering out the deal. The contract was faxed just minutes before the league office closed, eliminating any chance that Fuller could meet again with the Patriots.

An eight-year starter with the Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns, Fuller will add much-needed experience to a Ravens secondary that featured three first-year starters for most of last season.

"I think he's going to be a key element of that back end really coming together and being one of the better groups in the league," Billick said. "He just fits all the criteria of what we need back there beyond just being a hell of a football player."

But the exact fit has yet to be defined.

The Ravens are leaning toward keeping Gary Baxter at cornerback, which means Fuller would have to shift from cornerback to free safety. In his eight NFL seasons, he played only one - 1999 with the Browns - at safety.

Fuller possibly could stay at cornerback if the team believes Baxter is better suited at safety.

"I think I still have some corner in me," said Fuller, who turns 32 in May. "But I'll do what is best for the team. It's not a big thing."

Having built a reputation of being one of the league's biggest talkers, Fuller made a lot of noise on the field last season as a Browns cornerback.

In Week 15, he held Colts receiver Marvin Harrison to an inconsequential three catches in the first half. By the second half, Indianapolis moved Harrison away from Fuller's physical play and lined him up across from Cleveland's Anthony Henry.

Over the final two weeks, the Browns lined up Fuller against opposition's best receiver - the Atlanta Falcons' Brian Finneran and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Hines Ward.

"Our four best guys are going to play," Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said of his secondary. "He hasn't played much [at safety], but there is that possibility."

The Ravens expressed concern yesterday whether Boston would make his cross-country trip from San Diego. The Chargers wooed Boston during his two-day visit - from a dinner with coach Marty Schottenheimer to face-to-face meetings with quarterback Drew Brees and running back LaDainian Tomlinson - but no offer had been made as of yesterday afternoon.

Boston is expected to arrive in Baltimore tonight, and there is a possibility of him dining with Billick. He is expected to meet with team officials tomorrow.

"I represented Jake Reed and Cris Carter when Coach Billick was in Minnesota [as the offensive coordinator], so I know what he is capable of doing with receivers," Frankel said.

At this point, the Ravens and Chargers are the only scheduled stops for Boston.

The Falcons, who have been pursuing a trade for Buffalo Bills receiver Peerless Price, have invited Boston for a visit, although that was not considered definite yesterday. Frankel said there are three other unidentified teams interested in Boston.

During these visits, teams will be inquiring about Boston's medical status and legal problems.

A year after he led the league with 1,598 receiving yards, Boston missed half of last season after having surgery on Nov. 20 to repair a torn patella tendon in his right knee. According to Frankel, Boston is running 40 yards in 4.3 seconds and squatting 400 pounds.

"[The injury] is a non-issue," Frankel said.

Concerns were heightened last March when Boston pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence. He also tested positive for marijuana and cocaine, Phoenix police said.

"Everything has been resolved, and it's over with," Frankel said.

Frankel also indicated Boston is not expecting to receive a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

"That should be resolved this week," Frankel said.

Frankel's meeting with the Ravens is expected to include talks regarding another client, cornerback Chris McAlister, who was designated as the team's franchise player last month.

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