The shoulder injury that could shelve Anthony Wright for at least the first month of the season has opened the door for Kerry Collins.
Wright, the Ravens' backup quarterback, will undergo surgery on his right (throwing) shoulder as soon as today and, in the worst-case scenario, could be sidelined for the entire season. This unsettling jolt to their depth chart has prompted the Ravens to begin their pursuit of Collins, the former New York Giants starter and the top quarterback on the NFL free-agent market.
Ravens officials confirmed they had spoken with Collins' agent yesterday but set no timetable on signing another backup. Many league observers consider Collins a long shot for the Ravens because they believe he eventually will sign with the Oakland Raiders.
Other quarterbacks who likely will draw interest from the Ravens are Kordell Stewart (Chicago Bears) and potential June salary cap cuts Tim Couch (Cleveland Browns) and Kurt Warner (St. Louis Rams).
"I think we would become a very attractive team for some guys," coach Brian Billick said. "It's going to have to be someone that sees this as a huge opportunity to come in, be with a good football team and have the possibility to play. If not, at the very least, you come back into the market next year that conceivably will not be as crowded as it is right now."
For weeks, the Ravens had repeatedly downplayed interest in Collins, saying they were confident with their current quarterback corps. But the loss of Wright - which has left the Ravens with one quarterback (Kyle Boller) with NFL experience - heightened the need for a veteran and suddenly gave life to monthlong rumors about Collins and the Ravens.
Judging by recent production, Collins is presumably the club favorite to replace Wright. The 31-year-old veteran has thrown for four straight 3,000-yard seasons and led the Giants to a Super Bowl in the 2000 season.
Collins was released by the Giants after declining to reduce his $7 million salary after the club's acquisition of top draft pick Eli Manning.
Collins' only free-agent visit was to Oakland last week. But if Rich Gannon reworks his $7 million salary with the Raiders, no starting job may exist for Collins.
That would leave him with the Ravens and his former Giants coach, Jim Fassel. The Ravens' new senior consultant had a strong five-year relationship with Collins in New York and could take him along in 2005 if he were to get a head-coaching job.
Collins' agent, David Dunn, did not return phone calls yesterday.
Based on styles, Couch and Stewart might be better fits for the Ravens. Because the Ravens have wrapped their offensive system around Kyle Boller, the coaches would prefer that his backup have similar athletic skills. Stewart was released by the Bears in March, and Couch could be cut next month by the Browns if he can't be traded.
There also would be some interest in Warner, the quickly declining two-time NFL Most Valuable Player. He is expected to part ways with the Rams in a couple of weeks and has been heavily linked to the Giants.
Whomever the Ravens sign, he will have to agree to a couple of terms: a contract for the veteran minimum (because the team has tied up its backup money in Wright) and a backup-only role.
"It's very clear cut: Kyle Boller is the starter, period," Billick said. "No one is going to come in and compete."
The Ravens believed they had their quarterback situation set after re-signing Wright this offseason to a two-year contract worth $3 million (which includes a $1.5 million signing bonus).
But the end of this week's passing camp marked the start of new concerns at quarterback.
Wright, who dressed for the passing camp but did not participate in any team drills, seemed stunned yesterday when he learned of his partially torn labrum, the cartilage found in the shoulder joint.
"He will probably miss the start of the season," Ravens trainer Bill Tessendorf said.
Wright, who guided the Ravens to their first division title last season as their starter, said the injury was suffered in the first half of the Ravens' game against Seattle on Nov. 23. After taking a blindside hit, he felt a twinge going into the locker room yet returned to lead the Ravens to their greatest comeback in team history.
In the weeks thereafter, Wright attributed the discomfort to fatigue and fought through the injury because of increased muscle mass. He even passed the team's physical at the end of the season.
When he decreased his lifting in the offseason, he felt less arm strength and more pain. A magnetic resonance imaging exam this week revealed a labrum tear.
The Ravens probably will place Wright on the physically-unable-to-perform list before the regular season, which starts Sept. 12. After sitting out the first six weeks, Wright can return to practice for three weeks before the Ravens have to make a decision on his status. At that point, they will either have to activate him, place him on injured reserve or release him.
"We thought that if we would have given my arm some time to rest, I would be fine when I came back now," Wright said. "It didn't work out that way."