Sanders glad he chose Baltimore

OWINGS MILLS - Besides his execution of the fly pattern, post and slant routes, the Baltimore Ravens sought veteran receiver Frank Sanders' intangibles. Along with a reputation for production and toughness with the Arizona Cardinals, the Ravens valued Sanders' background of mentoring standouts like David Boston. Baltimore thought enough of the unrestricted free agent's leadership to sign him to a four-year contract reportedly worth $8.8 million, including a $1.7 million signing bonus.

With a youthful receiving corps whose statistics were dwarfed by Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap, the Ravens obtained Sanders as much for his skills as his personality.

Throughout last season while receivers' drops kept mounting, general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach Brian Billick lamented their decision to not bring in Antonio Freeman, an experienced NFL wideout.

"I think that might have hurt us a little bit in that we had a bunch of young receivers that needed to be taught how to prepare," Newsome said. "Even though we allowed our young guys to work and to grow, to have a mentor sometimes is very good.

"If they have a tough day, they will be able to look to Frank on how to handle that because he's been down that road."

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.

Last season, Travis Taylor led Baltimore's receivers with 61 catches as Heap hauled in 68 receptions. With Brandon Stokley (24 catches) joining the Indianapolis Colts, the remaining receivers on the roster (Ron Johnson, Randy Hymes and Javin Hunter) had a combined 21 receptions and one touchdown.

Running back Jamal Lewis eclipsed those numbers with 47 receptions and 442 yards.

"My desire is to be productive in my play, to score touchdowns, to move the ball up the field, to win ballgames," said Sanders, who slumped to 34 catches and 400 yards last season before going on injured reserve with four games left with a foot problem. "I want to be an ear and a voice, when I need to."

Sanders said he immediately felt welcome in Baltimore during his visit last month, which included a conversation with middle linebacker Ray Lewis. He wanted to take his time before he finalized his decision.

"A slogan was given to me by Aeneas Williams, and I haven't forgotten it: 'Frank, you need to go where you're celebrated, and not where you're tolerated,'" said Sanders, a Pro Bowl alternate selection in 1998 with 89 catches and 1,145 yards. "When I saw Ray Lewis, he said this is where you need to be. I didn't tell Ozzie, but I could have signed that day.

"My wife and I wanted to make sure that we were in a spot that celebrated Frank Sanders as a player, not just a mentor."

Sanders, an Auburn graduate, and Newsome, a former standout for legendary Alabama Crimson Tide coach Bear Bryant, traded good-natured jokes about their highly competitive alma maters during Sanders' press conference.

Also, former Baltimore cornerback Duane Starks, who signed with Arizona before last season, recommended the Ravens to Sanders.

"A player is going to be true to his word," Sanders said. "It's not like college. It's not recruiting. where people say, 'Come to Alabama. We're not going on probation.' A player's going to be true to another player."

NOTES: The agent for former Chicago Bears receiver Marcus Robinson said there is mutual interest with the Ravens. A visit could possibly happen after next weekend's draft. First, Robinson is slated to meet with the Cardinals, Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers. "There is definite interest from Ozzie and Marcus' part," agent Ken Sarnoff said. "Baltimore would be a good fit." … Among the other first-day college prospects recently linked to Baltimore in visits: Tennessee wideout Kelley Washington and Nebraska defensive end Chris Kelsay. … The Ravens didn't put in any claims on restricted free agents or have any of their own sign offer sheets with clubs before Friday's deadline. … No progress was reported in negotiations with free agent outside linebacker Jamir Miller.

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