Ravens size up options

Re-signing Kemoeatu top free-agency goal

February 28, 2006|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

Three days before the start of free agency, the Ravens' big target just happens to be their biggest player.

Maake Kemoeatu, a burly 6-foot-5, 350-pound nose tackle, is considered the Ravens' priority based on their need and the market. If they lose Kemoeatu, it's assumed there isn't anyone on the Ravens' roster or in free agency who can adequately replace him.

Agent Ken Vierra said yesterday the Ravens have been "aggressive" in trying to re-sign Kemoeatu before free agency begins Friday but indicated the first-year starter is basically forced to test the market.

"I think [Ravens general manager] Ozzie Newsome and [chief negotiator] Pat Moriarty have been extremely forthcoming and fair; they're doing everything right," Vierra said. "This is really about Maake and what makes sense from a business standpoint. A guy does not get to free agency very often in the course of his career. I believe he has earned the right to find out what he might be worth. That's our intention."

Vierra, however, did not rule out Kemoeatu returning to the Ravens.

"We're going to continue to talk," Vierra said. "I know they want to tie him up and get him under contract. I think he has to find out what his market value is."

The Ravens will also keep close contact with linebacker Bart Scott and defensive end Tony Weaver, two other defensive starters who will become free agents.

The hope is Scott and Weaver will follow a similar path to linebacker Adalius Thomas, who returned to the Ravens as a free agent in 2004 after gauging his worth with other teams.

If the Ravens can't retain Scott, they can look to bring back Tommy Polley to fill the starting inside linebacker role. If the Ravens can't re-sign Weaver, they have players on the roster such as Jarret Johnson, Dan Cody or Roderick Green who can plug that starting spot.

There are no such contingencies with Kemoeatu, a no-frills cog in the middle of that defensive front.

The Ravens' backup nose tackle, Aubrayo Franklin, isn't considered ready to handle the 40-plus snap workload. The other alternative in free agency is the Dallas Cowboys' La'Roi Glover, who should draw considerable interest after his expected release this week.

"Kemo has gotten better each year," Newsome said. "He has proven that he can be a viable player in front of the defense on first and second down."

Kemoeatu, 27, recorded a career-high 70 tackles last season for the NFL's ninth-ranked run defense. Team officials have compared his ability to jam up the middle to that of former Raven Tony Siragusa.

Kemoeatu joined the Ravens as an undrafted free agent out of Utah in 2002 before working himself into the starting lineup last season.

"He went out for four years and busted his butt," Vierra said. "Now, fortunately, market forces are such that he can do well for himself."

Notes -- The Ravens signed backup tight end Daniel Wilcox to a three-year extension, according to his agent John Rickert. Wilcox, who was sixth on the team with 20 catches, would have been a restricted free agent. "He wanted him to be there and they wanted him to be there," Rickert said. "When that happens, you got a great fit." ... Another restricted free agent, offensive tackle Tony Pashos, is expected to receive a "first-round" tender, which means any team looking to sign him would have to give up a first-round pick in return. Pashos is the projected starter on the right side. ... Newsome was unsure whether the Ravens will pursue former first-round pick Duane Starks, 31, an injury-prone cornerback who was cut by the New England Patriots on Saturday. Starks could fill the Ravens' void at nickel back. "Obviously, we'll have to do some work when we get back," Newsome said. ... The Ravens could make some more salary-cap room by releasing offensive tackle Orlando Brown ($900,000 savings) and pass rusher Peter Boulware ($1.3 million), but there is no deadline to do so. Although Brown is not expected to return, Boulware might have an outside chance to come back if he agrees to a stricter offseason workout regimen. Asked if the Ravens will make any salary-cap cuts this week, Newsome said, "We don't have to release any players to get under the cap."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

To market

The Ravens have 15 players who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents Friday, including six starters:

STARTERS ............................ BACKUPS

S Will Demps ......................... TE Darnell Dinkins

NT Maake Kemoeatu ............. CB Dale Carter

RB Jamal Lewis ...................... WR Randy Hymes

LB Tommy Polley .................... WR Patrick Johnson

LB Bart Scott ........................... CB Deion Sanders

DE Tony Weaver ..................... RB Chester Taylor

................................................... S Chad Williams

................................................... QB Anthony Wright

................................................... P Dave Zastudil

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