Ravens maintain cautious approach

OWINGS MILLS - In terms of their agenda, the Baltimore Ravens' initial approach to free agency has been defined by ambition measured against caution. Underneath the league's salary cap because of last year's extensive roster exodus, the Ravens haven't engaged in a wild spending spree. It's been more of a systematic emphasis on retaining their own players. "We never said we were going to be major players," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said,

of a free agency period that began Feb. 28.

"We feel like free agency augments your team, and we feel like that's what it's going to do for us. It's making us stronger in certain areas."

Now, the Ravens remain in search of a pass rusher, a wide receiver and possibly a quarterback. Baltimore is hunting for bargains in a thinning market while eyeing the April draft. Plus, there's a second wave of free agency to explore after June 1, when the NFL's new fiscal calendar begins and clubs tend to release players for salary-cap purposes.

"There are still some players out there, and they're starting to realize what the market is all about," Newsome said. "That will allow us to get good deals. Some of the same people that are out there will probably be there in June.

"We're going to focus on the draft right now."

Primarily, Baltimore's concentration in free agency has been in-house. Baltimore signed offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo to a seven-year accord reportedly worth $15.5 million, including a $4 million bonus, to prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent.

"Getting Mulitalo back was huge for us," Newsome said.

The Ravens assigned the franchise tag to cornerback Chris McAlister to retain his rights with a one-year $5.962 million tender offer.

Baltimore kept restricted free agents like quarterback Chris Redman and defensive end Adalius Thomas and brought back unrestricted free agents like outside linebacker Cornell Brown, offensive tackle Ethan Brooks and defensive end Riddick Parker.

The primary exception to the Ravens' negotiating goal was the breakdown in talks with former starting quarterback Jeff Blake. When Blake elected to visit other teams, Baltimore withdrew its three-year, $4.5 million offer and he signed with Arizona.

"We wanted to get Jeff back, but that was just a blip on the screen," Newsome said. "You're always going to lose something."

Meanwhile, oft-injured receiver Brandon Stokley signed with the Indianapolis Colts rather than play for the veteran minimum in Baltimore.

Redman, who went 3-3 as a starter, is rehabilitating his back and the prognosis is positive. That doesn't preclude Baltimore from adding someone to compete with him.

"We're no worse than where we were last year," Newsome said. "Now, we have Chris with six starts. We just need to get him healthy."

Thus far, major acquisitions outside of the organization have been limited to signing former Cleveland defensive back Corey Fuller and offensive tackle Orlando Brown. Neither was especially expensive as Fuller and Brown were inked to three and one-year pacts worth $4.5 million and $1 million, respectively.

"Corey Fuller is going to give us a veteran presence in our secondary," Newsome said.

The Ravens' pursuit of blue-chip wide receiver David Boston, who has had off-field and injury issues, was aborted by him signing with the San Diego Chargers before his scheduled visit with Baltimore.

"We never really got a true shot," Newsome said.

Newsome is confident the Ravens can improve without overspending. Prior to this week's pacts with Orlando Brown and Cornell Brown, the Ravens reportedly had $8 million left to spend underneath the league's salary cap limit of $75.007 million.

 "Yeah, we've still got a lot of flexibility under the cap," Newsome said. "Now, is when you start to get good deals."

NOTES: Former Ravens All-Pro return specialist Jermaine Lewis has apparently eliminated Baltimore from consideration. According to a published report, Lewis has narrowed his choices down to the Cincinnati Bengals and Jacksonville Jaguars. … The agent for unrestricted free agent cornerback James Trapp said he has had discussions with Carolina, Tampa and Jacksonville as well as the Ravens. "It's not 100 percent definite that he'll be back with the Ravens," said George Mavrikes, Trapp's agent. "That decision might wait until after the draft."

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