Ravens planning visit by Stewart

Team invites ex-Steeler, open competition in camp to be starting quarterback

March 08, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens have extended an invitation to Kordell Stewart and a second chance to Chris Redman.

Team officials have been in contact with the agent for Stewart and are trying to arrange a visit as early as next week for the former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback. But if the Ravens sign Stewart or any other free-agent quarterback, there will be an open competition for the starting job.

Redman was 3-3 as a first-year starter last season before a herniated disc sidelined him for the final 10 weeks of the season. After back surgery Jan. 17, he is scheduled to participate in the team's first minicamp in May.

"Whatever we do from this point on will be in competition," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, who has not had a quarterback battle in his 11 seasons as an NFL coach. "I don't particularly care for open competition in training camp. It's hard to orchestrate. It's not particularly fair to the athletes. It's very hard on the other players. But I recognize that you deal with the circumstances you have. That's what we have to do, that's what we'll do."

Redman, 25, could not be reached to comment yesterday.

The uncertainty of Redman's health prompted the Ravens to pursue re-signing Jeff Blake as their starter. But when Blake decided to visit other teams on Thursday, the Ravens pulled their offer off the table, which reopened the door for Redman to become No. 1 again.

"I offered Jeff what I did for a couple of reasons. I believe that was in Jeff's best interest and in the team's best interest to have that guy return and be in that position [as the starter]," Billick said. "Now, whoever is coming in is coming in from the outside."

That outsider could be Stewart, who is considered the top available prospect in a weak free-agent quarterback class. The Ravens had graded Stewart as high as Blake but preferred Blake because of his knowledge of the team's system.

Stewart's turbulent career in Pittsburgh included a 45-29 record (.608) in the regular season and some costly mistakes in the postseason. A year removed from being a league Most Valuable Player candidate, Stewart was benched in favor of Tommy Maddox after an 0-2 start last season and was cut for salary-cap purposes on Feb. 26.

Stewart, 30, left the Steelers with the second-most passing yards in franchise history (13,328) and ranked 13th in rushing (2,561 yards).

"I've always been a Kordell Stewart fan," Billick said. "I liked him coming out of college. I think he has a great deal of potential. I've obviously seen what he has done in this league. He has been to two AFC championship games as a quarterback, and that's a real strong pedigree.

"I like Kordell Stewart. Whether that fits for us or not, we need a visit. I would look forward to that."

Stewart has visited the Arizona Cardinals and the Chicago Bears, receiving preliminary contract offers from both teams.

Stewart's agent, Leigh Steinberg, said he talked with Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome earlier this week about the Ravens' interest if negotiations with Blake broke down. Although Steinberg did not hear from the Ravens yesterday about setting up a visit, he indicated that Stewart would be open for a meeting next week.

"He is a Brian Billick fan, too," Steinberg said. "The opportunity to play for one of the true geniuses at quarterback is extremely tempting."

Steinberg added that a competition with Redman for the starting job would not deter Stewart from signing with the Ravens.

"All teams have incumbent quarterbacks," he said. "But the competition may be more or less intense."

Just days before his release from the Steelers, Stewart told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he would enjoy playing for Billick.

"The Ravens have a good team and a coach who has supported quarterbacks Elvis Grbac, Jeff Blake, Trent Dilfer and Chris Redman and linebacker Ray Lewis when he was going through all that drama," Stewart said. "He lets the players win the game. Those are the type of coaches who win. If someone wants to take control based on their own selfish motives, they will lose every single time. I will say it again - every single time."

NOTE: The Ravens are close to re-signing right tackle Ethan Brooks, who started 13 games last season. Brooks, who struggled at times, will likely compete for that starting job. His return does not rule out the signing of free-agent offensive tackle Orlando Brown. ... Newsome is attending the league's competition committee meetings, where the overtime format is expected to be a hot topic.

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