White may be best of a bear market

Chicago free agent leads a slim crop of receivers

Ravens may turn to draft

March 17, 2004|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

What's left for the Ravens after losing out on Terrell Owens isn't pretty.

A second-option receiver on a mediocre team might well be the most attractive choice available.

Dez White, who started 11 games for the 7-9 Chicago Bears last year but played a supporting role to Marty Booker, is the biggest name receiver left on the free-agent market. He's the player at whom the Ravens will likely take the longest look.

White's agent, Ben Dogra, said he has not heard from the Ravens, who are in no hurry to fill the void Owens' loss creates.

"The guys that are left - Dez White, James McKnight, [Curtis] Conway, Kevin Dyson, [Bill] Schroeder and Antonio Freeman - those are names that are available," Ravens pro personnel director George Kokinis said. "We're not going to just rush into anything and try and Band-Aid something. We've got what is left of free agency, the draft, the June 1 cuts, and the restricted [free agents]. We'll see what fits, if it's the right move, and go from there."

The Ravens thought they had a long-term answer at receiver after trading for Owens with the San Francisco 49ers nearly two weeks ago. But Owens filed a grievance with the players union, and the case was resolved yesterday with the Ravens receiving their second-round selection back from the 49ers and a fifth-round pick (155th overall) from the Philadelphia Eagles. The 49ers acquired end Brandon Whiting from the Eagles, and the Eagles got Owens.

Owens was the top receiver in a thin free-agent crop. Darrell Jackson, Tai Streets and former Raven Marcus Robinson have signed with teams.

That leaves a group led by White, a player Chicago apparently has little interest in re-signing. Still, the fifth-year pro seems to have the best combination of size (6 feet 1, 215 pounds), youth (he's 24) and speed (seven catches of 20 yards or more last season) of any free-agent receiver left.

White played in 15 games last season and had 49 catches for 583 yards and three touchdowns. He set career highs the previous year with 51 catches for 656 yards and four touchdowns, but he appears to have fallen out of favor with the Bears. White has visited the Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons.

The Ravens, meanwhile, also could use their second-round pick on a receiver.

"We'll now wait, as we've done very successfully, to see what comes available over the next couple of months," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "There'll be some options come available to us. But right now, our focus has to remain with the draft and see what comes available. In that sense, we're kind of where we were before. But it's still nonetheless disappointing because clearly there are fewer options available to us now."

One might be Conway, who recorded 46 catches for 640 yards and two touchdowns last season with the New York Jets but was released earlier this month. A 12-year veteran, Conway, 33, has the best credentials of any remaining receiver, posting three 1,000-yard seasons, the last of which came in 2001 with the San Diego Chargers.

Behind Conway, the Ravens may be better off depending on the draft, where Washington State's Devard Darling, Virginia Tech's Ernest Wilford and Wisconsin's Lee Evans may be available in the second round.

The Ravens could also choose to go after a restricted free agent, including Seattle's Alex Bannister, who has drawn interest around the team's complex. If the Ravens signed Bannister to an offer sheet, the team would be required to give up its fourth-round pick. Bannister started two games and had three catches for 61 yards and a touchdown last season.

NOTES: Kickoff specialist Wade Richey signed his one-year contract yesterday. ... Right tackle Orlando Brown settled his lawsuit with the NFL, agreeing to pay a one-time total of $1 million. The NFL sued Brown for $500,000 last month, claiming Brown owed it money because he returned after an injury settlement. Brown said he won't have to pay the league any more money.

Looking to catch on

With the Ravens seeking a receiver, here are the most prominent names on the market, with 2003 statistics:

Player, 2003 team Rec Yds TDs

Curtis Conway, NYJ 46 640 2

Kevin Dyson, Car 2 15 0

Antonio Freeman, GB 14 141 0

James McKnight, Mia 23 285 2

Bill Schroeder, Det 36 397 2

Dez White, Chi 49 583 3

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