Ravens assign middle tender to Hartwell

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens assigned the middle tender to linebacker Ed Hartwell on Friday to retain the rights to their top restricted free agent.<br> <br> The Ravens gave the low tender to their other restricted free agents.<br> <br>

Hartwell, 25, will receive a one-year tender of $1.368 million and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after next season. The high tender of $1.824 million would have carried first- and third-round compensation if another club signed Hartwell and the Ravens declined to match.

Hartwell is a former fourth-round draft pick from Western Illinois who finished second on the team in tackles last season to All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis with 140 stops along with three sacks and an interception.

Harold Lewis, Hartwell's agent, said he had anticipated heavy interest in the inside linebacker if the Ravens had assigned him the low tender. 

Hartwell emerged as the Ravens' leading tackler in 2002 with 191 tackles when Lewis was out with a shoulder injury. 

Under league rules, another team can still sign Hartwell to an offer sheet. However, that's an unlikely scenario because they would owe the Ravens a first-round draft pick as compensation.

"It's a compliment to Ed," Lewis said. "Hopefully, it's an indication that we'll do a long-term contract for Ed with the Ravens at some point. 

"You can still look around, but the compensation scares teams off and ensures he'll back in Baltimore. It's a good fit."

Representatives for the Ravens' other restricted free agents, offensive guard Bennie Anderson, long snapper Joe Maese, offensive lineman Casey Rabach, a former third-round pick from Wisconsin, and defensive end Marques Douglas, confirmed low tenders (right of first refusal) of $628,000 for their clients. 

"Anything they get from someone else, we can always match," general manager Ozzie Newsome said.

The Ravens had until Tuesday to assign tenders to their restricted players and to submit minimum salaries to retain their exclusive-rights free agents: safety Will Demps, receiver Randy Hymes, offensive tackle Damion Cook, nose guard Maake Kemoeatu, fullback Alan Ricard and cornerback Ray Walls.

Newsome said the team continued talks Friday morning with Mitch Frankel, the agent for franchise player Chris McAlister. The team is attempting to negotiate a long-term contract extension for McAlister.

"We always have good talks with Mitch," Newsome said. "All of the talks are good from my standpoint."

Outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, an unrestricted free agent who made the Pro Bowl last season as the Ravens' special team ace, is likely to test his value when the veteran signing period begins Wednesday.

"As it sits right now, it looks like we're in the market," said Bus Cook, Thomas' agent. "We apparently think he's worth more than they do. I'm sure he would like to stay in Baltimore, but I suspect a lot of teams will want to pay him what he's worth. 

"I'm confident he'll get some nice offers. He's so multi-dimensional on the field."

Thomas had four sacks last season, blocked a punt and led the team with 23 special-teams tackles.

"Maybe Adalius doesn't fit into the Ravens' long-range plans, it's disappointing," Cook said. "They are so far under the cap that it kind of shocks you a little bit."

The team reportedly has a league-high $23.03 million underneath the salary cap limit of $80.5 million. It has a dozen unrestricted free agents, including Thomas, kicker Matt Stover, center Mike Flynn, quarterback Anthony Wright and receiver Marcus Robinson.

"We're negotiating, and anytime negotiations can either come to an agreement or come to a stall," Newsome said. "We want to keep our guys."

NOTE: Newsome confirmed that former Ravens linebacker O.J. Brigance, a special-teams standout on the Super Bowl team, has accepted the position of director of player development. Brigance's hire will become official on Monday.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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