Ravens, Sanders agree to contract

Marshall's Leftwich visits, passes team's physical

April 17, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens provided an answer to their inexperienced receiving corps and removed a major question mark surrounding a franchise quarterback.

Hours after Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich solidified his draft standing by passing the team's physical yesterday, the Ravens announced they reached an agreement in principle with receiver Frank Sanders. Slated to be the team's No. 2 wide-out, he is expected to sign a four-year contract, believed to be worth about $7 million, by the end of the week.

Sanders, 30, becomes the oldest and most accomplished member of the Ravens' receiving corps, which previously had no one over the age of 25. Considered the top free-agent receiver left on the market, the eight-year veteran leaves the Arizona Cardinals after averaging more than 60 receptions over his career.

"We needed a veteran presence at receiver," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "We now have an experienced guy who can provide some leadership and can teach our guys what it takes to work on this level and what it takes to prepare week to week."

The Ravens were close to striking out at receiver this off-season after missing out on David Boston and Curtis Conway. Both of those receivers chose not to visit the Ravens, and Sanders sat on the Ravens' offer for nearly four weeks before giving the Cardinals one last chance to match the deal.

Despite a big need at receiver, Arizona decided to cut ties with Sanders, whose receptions have declined each of the past four seasons after he ranked second in the NFL with 89 catches in 1998. His career low of 34 catches for 400 yards came last season, when he missed the final four games with a foot injury.

But the Ravens were desperate to upgrade at receiver and add a reliable set of hands. Travis Taylor had 61 catches last season, but the remaining wide-outs - Ron Johnson, Randy Hymes and Javin Hunter - combined for 21.

"Fairly or unfairly, Frank has been labeled as a possession receiver," receivers coach David Shaw said of the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Sanders. "I label Frank as a good receiver. To me, good receivers play for a long time, get open and they catch the ball. That's what Frank has done for eight years now.

"I think he makes us a lot better. He's won games and has been in clutch situations. He's dependable week after week. I think it takes us up another notch."

Asked how the addition of Sanders affects their draft, Newsome said, "It forces you not to push somebody up the board that maybe you don't want to."

While the need for receivers diminished, the Ravens continued exploring their options at drafting a quarterback in the first round.

A week after playing host to California's Kyle Boller, the team received a visit from Leftwich. Generally rated the second-best quarterback of the draft behind Southern California's Carson Palmer, Leftwich is a massive drop-back passer (6-5, 242 pounds) and has the most accurate arm in the draft.

The main drawback on Leftwich has been his twice-broken left leg.

A year ago, he had a rod inserted into his tibia to repair a stress fracture that had bothered him the previous two seasons. Then, on Nov. 2, Leftwich took a hit on the leg, creating a hairline fracture in the same bone.

At his widely attended workout last week, Leftwich took a big step in quieting concerns by running the 40-yard dash in 4.88 seconds, which was faster than many scouts expected out of the pure pocket passer. The Ravens, though, had a thorough look at the leg yesterday and declared him healthy.

After the visit, Newsome said, "Whatever position he was on our board, he held that ranking."

Leftwich, who drove from his hometown of Capitol Heights, was unavailable to reporters.

The Ravens have a slim chance of landing Leftwich with the 10th overall pick and likely would have to trade up to have a shot at him.

There is an outside possibility that Leftwich could be taken by the Cincinnati Bengals with the first pick. The Bengals reportedly have opened contract talks with Leftwich, Palmer and cornerback Terence Newman.

But if Leftwich slides, the Ravens probably would not allow him to drop out of the top 10.

"Up until he got hurt, there was nothing [to scrutinize]," Newsome said. "You can talk about lack of mobility, but [Browns quarterback] Bernie Kosar took us to the playoffs five years in a row [1985-89] and he wasn't very mobile."

NOTES: Ravens officials denied a published report of a possible trade for Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper. ... The Ravens finalized their preseason schedule, which will kick off Aug. 9 at 8 p.m. against the Buffalo Bills at Ravens Stadium. The remaining games, all of which start at 8 p.m., are at the Atlanta Falcons (Aug. 16), at the Washington Redskins (Aug. 24) and home against the New York Giants (Aug. 28).

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