Baxter confident of striking Ravens deal

Source: Club, cornerback $4 million apart on bonus

March 01, 2005|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Watching the heavy snow fall yesterday, Gary Baxter said it's unlikely he will be able to leave his Baltimore home anytime soon, much less the Ravens.

Considered the top priority of the Ravens' 12 pending unrestricted free agents, Baxter remains optimistic about staying with the team and wouldn't rule out striking a deal before hitting the market tomorrow.

According to a league source, the three-year starting cornerback and the Ravens are about $4 million apart on a signing bonus.

"I still think a deal will still get done with the Ravens," said Baxter, who declined to talk about specific contract numbers. "I know talks are being intensified. But I'm not an expert at this."

Baxter is one of six starters scheduled to become free agents, the most for the Ravens since the 2002 offseason. Known for retaining their players, the Ravens have re-signed 10 of 22 free agents the previous two years, a good rate in today's salary cap era.

But this offseason could be a different one for the Ravens. Four starters - linebacker Ed Hartwell, center Casey Rabach, right guard Bennie Anderson and receiver Travis Taylor - are expected to go elsewhere.

Hartwell and Rabach probably will get more money from other teams, and Anderson and Taylor presumably don't figure into the team's plans.

Another starter, defensive end Marques Douglas, is expected to test the market.

"We give what we believe are fair offers and then it's in the agents' hands [if players want to sign before free agency begins]," coach Brian Billick said last week. "Yeah, we'd love to accelerate it, but in most instances, the agents say, `Well, we're this close to free agency. Let's see what the market is.'"

The market for cornerbacks appears to be crowded, as Baxter joins top-notch cover guys like Ty Law, Samari Rolle and Fred Smoot.

To the Ravens, Baxter is valuable because of his versatility. He can start at cornerback, move inside to cover the slot receiver in passing situations or play safety in a pinch.

In his three seasons as a starter, he has twice finished among the defense's top three in tackles. A second-round draft pick by the Ravens in 2001, he has intercepted five passes and broken up 46.

Baxter also has proved to be durable, with his 46 straight starts the longest current streak on the team.

"Whatever offers I get out there, I'm going to give the Ravens the last chance," Baxter said. "It's all about showing my loyalty."

Baxter, however, admitted this week has brought back some familiar anxieties.

"It's a waiting game right now," Baxter said. "It's like pre-game and I hate that feeling. I just want to get back to playing football."

NOTES: The Ravens and the Jacksonville Jaguars are the two teams that have confirmed talks with free-agent receiver Derrick Mason, with the Jaguars still looking like the front-runners. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, the Bengals have expressed interest but they likely would offer less money than the other teams. Mason's agent did not return phone calls yesterday. ... Ravens officials are still in Indianapolis for the NFL combine, which ends today.

Ravens' free agents

The 12 Ravens who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents tomorrow:

Starters (6)

Bennie Anderson, G

Gary Baxter, CB

Marques Douglas, DE

Ed Hartwell, LB

Casey Rabach, C

Travis Taylor, WR

Reserves (6)

Joe Maese, LS

Wade Richey, K

Deion Sanders, CB

T.J. Slaughter, LB

Kordell Stewart, QB

Jamel White, RB

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