Ravens pin their receiver hopes on draft

Weak free-agent market turns team's thoughts to talented entry class

Pro Football

March 31, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

PALM BEACH, Fla. - The Ravens have decided their best route to improving their drab receiving corps is the college ranks.

At the NFL owners meetings yesterday, coach Brian Billick said the Ravens likely will sit tight for 3 1/2 weeks before addressing the wide-out situation in the draft on April 24.

After assessing a bare free-agent market, team officials prefer to take their chances on a draft full of viable receivers.

The need for a receiver was magnified when the Ravens' trade for Terrell Owens was nullified, which left them with just one wide-out (Travis Taylor) who caught more than 14 passes last year.

"We're relegated pretty much to the draft," Billick said. "You can project [changes to the free-agent market] to a degree, but I don't particularly anticipate or see or are aware of someone of substance that could make a major difference for us."

Presumably, the Ravens would use their first pick - the 51st overall in the second round - on a receiver.

With a receiver-deep draft, they have a strong shot at landing a prospect such as Louisiana State's Devery Henderson or Virginia Tech's Ernest Wilford.

But Billick, whose offense ranked last in the NFL in passing last year, was cautious about locking into a receiver at that spot, saying the team will stick to its philosophy of taking the best player available.

"When you get to the 51st pick and you need a wide receiver, it would be real tempting and easy to justify if our board says our 54th-rated guy is a pretty good receiver," Billick said.

"With the clock going on draft day, that's not a time to decide are we going to stay true to our principle and stick with the board at 51? When you fall away from that, that's when you get into trouble."

Billick all but ruled out a trade with the Cleveland Browns for Dennis Northcutt.

Any trade between division rivals is unlikely, and the teams' bitter history further reduces the chances of Northcutt coming to the Ravens.

"Obviously, we would be one of the least likely teams," Billick said. "But you never know. You see a Drew Bledsoe go from New England to Buffalo, so stranger things have happened."

Stranger things happened two weeks ago when the league went from assuring the Owens trade would stand to scrambling for a settlement in less than a day.

Instead of acquiring Owens, the Ravens were compensated with a fifth-round pick after NFL officials repeatedly told them Owens would lose any arbitration hearing.

When asked if he had heard from anyone from the league expressing regret over misinterpreting Owens' contract to the Ravens, Billick said, "I haven't, but I don't know that anybody is predisposed to explaining it to me. The only time I talk to the league is when they fine me.

"I can't imagine anybody in the league not recognizing the position they put us in and try to present the perception that this worked out for everybody. There's only one team that's been substantially harmed in this whole process, and that's us."

The next time a similar incident occurs, the Ravens won't have the same blind faith in the league.

"You have to take responsibility as a club for whatever you do, but, yeah, certainly going forward you have to log a concern and use that in your judgment as you go forward," Billick said.

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