Corner play? Got it covered

Ravens

March 02, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Three days into free agency, the Ravens have made one addition, giving Domonique Foxworth one of the most lucrative free-agent contracts in team history.

So, why did the Ravens make it a priority to sign a cornerback?

"What we have found out over the 13 years of this organization is when we've had good corner play, we've won," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "Having that as a strength on your football team leads me to believe that we can be a successful team on the field next year."

Newsome said it's "a premium" to have players with cover skills in the AFC North, which features downfield threats such as the Cincinnati Bengals' Chad Ocho Cinco, the Cleveland Browns' Braylon Edwards and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes.

That's why the Ravens acted so quickly to grab Foxworth, who signed a four-year, $27.2 million deal that includes $16.5 million in guaranteed money. The former standout from Western Tech and Maryland got a $4 million signing bonus and a $3.38 million reporting bonus. The first two years of his contract - $620,000 for 2009 and $3.2 million for 2010 - are guaranteed.

But some NFL insiders have questioned whether the Ravens overspent on Foxworth, who was generally rated in the top five of a mediocre free-agent cornerback class.

He doesn't have great size (5 feet 11, 180 pounds). He hasn't started more than 10 games in a season. And he hasn't had more than two interceptions in a year.

Foxworth said some of the unfulfilled expectations were the result of circumstance. In Denver, he felt the pressure of always being compared with Champ Bailey. Last year, he was traded to the Atlanta Falcons five days before the regular season began.

"Now, I'll be comfortable," Foxworth said. "I feel like I don't have a Hall of Famer breathing down my neck and I'll have the proper amount of time to learn a defense. I'll be loose and have fun."

Signing free-agent cornerbacks has become quite expensive in the NFL.

Though Foxworth's deal averages nearly $7 million per season, it's far less than what was spent on the Washington Redskins' DeAngelo Hall (six years for $54 million with $22.5 million guaranteed) and the Indianapolis Colts' Kelvin Hayden (five years for $43 million with $22 million guaranteed).

It's believed the Ravens sought a free-agent cornerback because of uncertainty with Samari Rolle, who battled injuries last season. There is speculation the Ravens might cut him after he refused a pay cut.

Now, with two of the fastest cornerbacks in the NFL (Foxworth and Fabian Washington), the Ravens believe they can handle the top receivers in their division.

Foxworth believes it, too.

"I've been able to play against some of the best receivers in the league and fared quiet well against most of them," Foxworth said. "So I feel really, really confident about entering this division."

At Friday's news conference, Foxworth seemed shocked he landed with the Ravens.

When free agency began, his agent ran through the list of interested teams, including the Falcons, Miami Dolphins and Ravens.

"Once you hear Ravens, I'm [saying]: 'Stop. Stop right there. Baltimore is an option?' " Foxworth said. "They get bumped to the front of the list. You sacrifice some of the other things that are important to you because being close to home is obviously of premium importance in my thinking."

Newsome, who hadn't spent this much on a cornerback since Rolle (six years for $30.5 million) in 2005, turned his head toward Foxworth.

"I wish I had known that yesterday," Newsome said with a smile.

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