Ravens reach agreement with Sanders

OWINGS MILLS - First, the Baltimore Ravens hosted another college quarterback regarded as one of the elite prospects in the upcoming NFL draft. A few hours after having lunch with Marshall senior quarterback Byron Leftwich on Wednesday, the Ravens potentially upgraded their passing game by reaching an agreement in principle with veteran receiver Frank Sanders.

By adding the former Arizona Cardinals starter with a four-year accord, the Ravens envision Sanders, 30, acting as a viable downfield target and mentor for a youthful receiving corps in need of an influx of savvy, toughness and consistent hands.

After the Ravens' aborted pursuit of David Boston and cursory conversation with Curtis Conway, Sanders is likely to emerge as a starter opposite Travis Taylor this fall.

 "Frank has been labeled, fairly or unfairly, as a possession receiver," Baltimore quarterbacks and receivers coach David Shaw said. "I label Frank as a good receiver. To me, good receivers play for a long time, get open and they catch the ball.

"This guy is a sharp, tough, dependable guy who will do whatever it takes to win the game."

The possible upside of the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Sanders: Production, size and a reputation for reliability, particularly across the middle.

In contrast to a group, besides Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap, that struggled to catch the football last season, Sanders is known for having sound fundamentals.

 "When I come here, I just want to be a blessing to the organization," Sanders said during his visit last month. "I'm coming with the desire to start. I'm not coming to be a star. I'm coming to be a part of a winning team."

Sanders' career totals of 493 receptions, 6,579 yards along with 24 touchdowns ranks him third and fifth for catches and yards, respectively, in the Cardinals' record book.

Between 1997 and 1999, no NFL receiver totaled more third-down receptions than Sanders' 93 catches in that category.

"We have an experienced, veteran guy who can provide some leadership, can teach our guys what it takes to work on this level," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "He's athletic. He's comfortable making plays down the field, but also has had the opportunity to work in the slot, so he brings some versatility for us."

 Newsome said Sanders' addition doesn't preclude the Ravens from still seeking a veteran wideout. The Chicago Bears released Marcus Robinson on Wednesday.

 Sanders' potential downside: He ended last season with four games left on injured reserve with a foot injury. And his statistics have declined steadily since a Pro Bowl alternate season in 1998, when he caught 89 passes for 1,145 yards and three touchdowns.

Since 1999, Sanders' numbers have dipped progressively. From 79 catches for 954 yards that season, he dropped to 54 catches for 749 yards and six touchdowns in 2000 and 41 catches for 618 yards in 2001.

Prior to the nagging foot problem that ended his season with four games left, Sanders caught 34 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns.

Sanders' best stretch of games came midway through last year with six receptions for 76 yards against the San Francisco 49ers, six catches for 67 yards against the St. Louis Rams and five catches for 62 yards against the Seattle Seahawks. Sanders stressed that he's healthy during his visit and passed his physical.

"Yeah, he's been banged, but they've been legitimate injuries," Shaw said. "He's not one of those guys who gets a little ding and has to come out of the game."

During his rookie season in 1995 after a standout career at Auburn, Sanders worked with Ravens offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, who was then the Cardinals' quarterbacks coach.

"I still enjoy working the inside slot," Sanders said. "They're looking for someone to do that and I'm definitely up to the challenge."

NOTES: Besides hosting the 6-6, 242-pound Leftwich, the Ravens also brought in stocky USC safety Troy Polamalu (5-10, 208), a projected late first-rounder, Colorado defensive end Tyler Brayton (6-6, 275), a likely second-rounder, and Tennessee linebacker Eddie Moore (6-0, 233), a probable second-day prospect.

 Leftwich drove from his home in Washington, D.C. to visit the Ravens, who met with Cal quarterback Kyle Boller last week.

"He's right up there, the same as Kyle, guys who came in with the right mental approach," Shaw said of Leftwich, who has recovered from a twice-broken tibia. "They are both mature, eager guys who are ready to play for whomever drafts them."

Newsome denied a published report that the Ravens had held trade discussions with the Minnesota Vikings for quarterback Daunte Culpepper. He said he remains optimistic about ongoing contract discussions with free agent outside linebacker Jamir Miller.

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