Ravens widen backfield focus

Dillon, C. Brown in mix

team, Lewis continue talking

March 06, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN REPORTER

Unable to strike a deal with Jamal Lewis over the weekend, the Ravens have expanded their free-agent running back search.

The Ravens contacted the agents for Corey Dillon and Chris Brown yesterday, although they are continuing to negotiate with Lewis.

It is still believed that the Ravens' preference is to re-sign Lewis, but they don't want to be left without an experienced running back in what has become a dwindling free-agent market.

"We continue to have conversations with Mitch [Frankel], Lewis' agent," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "But we're also talking with other running backs."

If the Ravens are unable to bring back Lewis, Dillon and Brown would both be happy to replace him.

Dillon's agent, Steve Feldman, said he had "cursory" talks with the Ravens yesterday.

Dillon, 32, was granted his release from the New England Patriots last Friday. He wants to go somewhere to be the featured back after splitting time last season with rookie Laurence Maroney.

In 2004, Dillon helped New England win the Super Bowl, rushing for a franchise-record 1,635 yards. His production dipped the past two seasons - 733 yards in 2005 and 812 yards last season - but he is still the top active runner in the NFL with 11,241 career yards in 10 seasons.

"I look forward to talking to them at more length," Feldman said. "Baltimore would obviously be our No. 1 choice."

Brown's agent, Wynn Silberman, expressed similar sentiments.

A third-round draft pick by the Tennessee Titans in 2003, Brown rushed for 1,067 yards in 2004 and 851 yards in 2005. But he lost his starting job to Travis Henry last season and had only 41 carries for 156 yards.

It is believed Brown, who turns 26 next month, would be part of the Ravens' contingency plan at running back if they're unable to get Lewis or Dillon.

"We're taking a strong look at Baltimore, and I think the chemistry with Steve McNair is something Baltimore is going to value," Silberman said.

Frankel, Lewis' agent, did not return phone calls yesterday. It is unknown whether Lewis has begun to look elsewhere while continuing to talk to the Ravens.

Lewis and Dillon are considered the top running backs available after Henry signed with the Denver Broncos (five years, $12 million in guaranteed money) and Ahman Green joined the Houston Texans (four-year, $23 million, including $6.5 million guaranteed).

Other running backs left in free agency include Dominic Rhodes (who seems headed to the New York Giants) and T.J. Duckett.

Another possibility is trading for the Buffalo Bills' Willis McGahee, but his price could be too steep for the salary-cap limited Ravens. Also, LaMont Jordan (Maryland) won't become a free agent after agreeing to reduce his roster bonus with the Oakland Raiders yesterday.

This is a small group considering the number of teams looking for a running back. The Raiders, Giants, Titans, Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns all could need another experienced back.

Unlike running back, Newsome said the team is done with outside linebackers in free agency after re-signing Jarret Johnson over the weekend. Contrary to reports, the Ravens announced Johnson's contract as a six-year deal.

"Jarret has been another guy that has been very productive for us in a lot of roles," Newsome said. "This allows him the opportunity now to become a solid starter for us."

That means the Ravens are no longer considering other linebackers, including former Steeler Joey Porter.

"Us getting Jarret back will now allow us to start to put our attention at other positions," Newsome said.

The Ravens also are not pursuing any free-agent offensive tackles. At this point, the Ravens are ready to go with former second-round pick Adam Terry as the replacement for right tackle Tony Pashos, but that isn't necessarily a lock.

"Could we draft a tackle? Sure," Newsome said. "But we feel like [Terry] would go in and do a creditable job for us."

The only other void in the starting lineup is at fullback. Newsome said the Ravens could address that position in free agency or the draft.

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

RUNNING BACK CHOICES

Here are some of the options the Ravens are considering at running back, with 2006 team and statistics:

COREY DILLION, PATRIOTS 199 CARRIES, 812 YARDS

CHRIS BROWN, TITANS 41 CARRIES, 156 YARDS.

JAMAL LEWIS, RAVENS 314 CARRIES, 1,132 YARDS

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