Salary cap increase lifts Ravens' hopes

Retaining free agents now a possibility

March 10, 2006|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

A boost in this year's salary cap doesn't mean the Ravens will be suddenly signing quarterback Drew Brees and running back Edgerrin James.

More money for the Ravens - a spending limit increase for every team from $94.5 million to $102 million for this season as a result of the new collective bargaining agreement - provides more hope of keeping their own free agents.

The Ravens can now aggressively try to re-sign linebacker Bart Scott and defensive end Tony Weaver, two starters who appeared to be on their way out before Wednesday's CBA extension.

"With the agreement, our plan gets extended," said George Kokinis, the Ravens' director of pro personnel. "I don't think our targets change that much. The scope is now a little bit bigger. You might be able to get a couple more guys to fill in some holes."

Of the Ravens' 15 unrestricted free agents, four made ESPN's list of top 50 players available: nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu (eighth), Weaver (15th) and running backs Jamal Lewis (21st) and Chester Taylor (40th).

Scott (12th) and safety Will Demps (24th) were among the top 25 sleepers in free agency.

The Ravens' top priority remains retaining Kemoeatu. According to a league source, he will receive interest from the Arizona Cardinals and Washington Redskins. The Cleveland Browns might not be as active in pursuing Kemoeatu as previously believed.

"Looking at the number of free agents we have, there's quality players there," Kokinis said, "and you never want to lose a quality player."

Free agency will finally begin tomorrow, which is eight days later than originally scheduled because of lagging negotiations with the players union.

The Ravens have had four organizational meetings about their offseason plan and have looked at film of every free agent. They targeted about 10 players at every position, each of whom got evaluated by three team officials (either a scout, coordinator or assistant coach).

"We've been prepared for a while. It's kind of like Disneyland; it's hurry up and wait," Kokinis said. "But the agreement is good for everybody. We're excited to see who we get."

NOTES -- Despite a report last night linking the Ravens as a possible trade partner for Daunte Culpepper, it has been confirmed that the Ravens are not in the running for the Minnesota quarterback. According to the NFL's Web site, a trade for Culpepper is imminent although it was unknown where he was headed. Besides the Ravens, the report listed Miami, New Orleans, Detroit and the New York Jets as teams interested in Culpepper. ... In addition to offensive tackle Tony Pashos, the Ravens gave a "first-round" tender to one other restricted free agent, defensive end Jarret Johnson. If a team signs either to an offer sheet, the Ravens have the right to either match it or receive a first-round pick as compensation. The Ravens extended minimum tenders to their other five restricted free agents: kickoff specialist Aaron Elling, defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin, fullback Ovie Mughelli, running back Musa Smith and quarterback Brian St. Pierre.

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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