Blake, Ravens reflect on quarterback's exit

OWINGS MILLS - Unraveling the reasons behind the Baltimore Ravens' divorce from veteran quarterback Jeff Blake doesn't require solving much of a mystery.

Baltimore withdrew its contract offer to Blake after he opted to test free agency instead of remaining its starting quarterback. Yet, this financially-provoked personnel decision last spring remains a sensitive topic that evokes a variety of opinions depending on vantage point and perspective. Especially, this week as the Ravens prepare to encounter their fiery former passer who now leads the reeling, injury-decimated Arizona Cardinals.

Bold in his belief in his arm strength and savvy, Blake placed a higher value on his services than Baltimore did. "I really loved the guys and thought we had a great thing going, but I'm sorry that it didn't work out," Blake said Wednesday in a conference call. "The organization and management had different ideas."They went their way and I went my way. You get in where you fit in."

Lauded for his football skills, Blake has often drawn mixed reviews for his leadership, accountability for mistakes and field presence. Nevertheless, the Ravens wanted Blake to return as their top signal-caller. They attempted to demonstrate their sincerity by having coach Brian Billick meet with Blake in West Palm Beach, Fla., to break the impasse. Baltimore's negotiators were unwilling to yield to what they considered to be exorbitant financial demands from Blake's agent, Ralph Cindrich. Last season, Blake compiled a 4-6 mark with 13 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 77.3 quarterback rating.

Blake also drew criticism for hugging Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher shortly after his last-second interception ended the Ravens' season.

Baltimore extended a three-year contract offer worth roughly $3.8 million, including a $1 million signing bonus, according to Cindrich. "We were negotiating and Jeff decided that offer wasn't substantial enough, so he decided to entertain offers from other teams," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "We've always been, 'right player, right price.' We've lost a lot of players because of that, but that's a philosophy we stick with."

Billick stressed that the offer was predicated on Blake not visiting other teams as an unrestricted free agent. The meeting didn't work out as envisioned, though. In a direct reaction to Blake embarking on a free-agent tour that began with the Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers and culminated in Arizona, the Ravens withdrew their offer and eventually drafted California quarterback Kyle Boller in the first round. "I'm surprised by very little in this league anymore," said Billick, who has been complimentary of Blake this week.

Ravens safety Gary Baxter jokingly referred to Blake as 'Steamin' Willie Beamon,' the egocentric, gifted quarterback from the movie, "Any Given Sunday." Blake wasn't so diplomatic upon signing the Cardinals' three-year deal for $7.5 million that included a $1.5 million signing bonus. "Baltimore wanted me to be the starter, no competition, and offered me a three-year deal worth $4.8 million," Blake told reporters in Arizona. "They told me take it or leave it, a $1 million signing bonus with a base salary of $800,000 this year. What made me mad was they tried to pimp me. "They told me if you take the trips, we are taking the money off the table. You have the right to shop around. I don't know why they tried to take that right away from me. I don't think that's fair. I have to look out for my family."

Regardless, the 22-year-old Boller is now the Ravens' starter with a 2-2 mark for the lowest-rated passing offense in the NFL. Meanwhile, the 32-year-old Blake is dealing with the awkward problems of directing a 1-4 football team. His top downfield target is rookie standout Anquan Boldin. He was sacked twice for safeties in Sunday's loss to the Dallas Cowboys. "Jeff has been nothing but positive," Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis said shortly before Blake criticized the running game without injured star Emmitt Smith and his blockers. "We don't have any more high-energy player at practice than Jeff Blake."

The former Cincinnati Bengals All-Pro has completed 79 of his 136 passes for 895 yards, five touchdowns, six interceptions and a quarterback rating of 71.8. His career touchdown to interception ratio is 124-89. "Jeff has a live arm and can make some plays with his feet," Newsome said.

Blake was often curt and said he doesn't like talking about the past. He declined to elaborate on his meeting with Billick, saying, "I'm not going to sit here and bull-jive with you guys about, 'Why did you do this?'" Blake took umbrage when asked if he was aware that he had several detractors in the Ravens' locker room who questioned his demeanor after wins and losses. "Locker room dissension? I wasn't even the starting quarterback. I wasn't the leader of the team," Blake said. "Why are you talking about dissension in the locker room? I went to work everyday. I kept my mouth shut. All I did was play football."

Besides the baggage from last year, Blake has to contend with linebacker Ray Lewis and the league's ninth-ranked defense. "Anytime someone has a different color jersey on, he is the enemy," Lewis said. "It won't be me and him giving each other high-fives after plays. "Jeff has his assets. He can be impressive in some eyes and not as impressive in others."

Aaron Wilson writes for The Carroll County Times

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