Ravens still feeling effects from Owens debacle

PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Baltimore Ravens' wide receiver dilemma hasn't disappeared. <P> Ravens coach Brian Billick fielded a flurry of questions at the annual league meetings Tuesday morning on the Terrell Owens debacle that left the Ravens without the services of an All-Pro receiver.

Billick took a few jabs at what turned out to be bad advice from the NFL management council regarding language in Owens' contract that led to the nullification of his trade to Baltimore and an escape route to the Philadelphia Eagles.

"The management council and I are not on the best of terms," Billick said. "Before the settlement, at no point did anybody in a position of authority give us anything but a positive affirmation that this is a slam dunk-case.

"You are safe going forward. Ozzie Newsome asked that question more times than an individual should have to."

Baltimore regained its second-round draft pick from the San Francisco 49ers through the settlement and was awarded the Eagles' fifth-round pick.

"Only one team was substantially harmed and that was us," Billick said. "I've yet to be extremely satisfied at all with the explanation of how that happened, but that's above my pay grade."

Billick also reiterated his frustration at how the AFC North champions were unable to pursue receivers Marcus Robinson and David Boston while stuck in "limbo" with Owens.

As far as trading for Cleveland Browns receiver Dennis Northcutt, Billick isn't optimistic about being aided by a division rival.

Browns coach Butch Davis said it's no longer out of the question that the disgruntled Northcutt, whose agent failed to void his contract, could return to Cleveland.

With a slim free-agent market populated by declining veteran receivers, such as Curtis Conway, Oronde Gadsen and Antonio Freeman, that leaves next month's draft as the Ravens' top opportunity to try to upgrade the league's lowest-ranked passing game.

This is a highly-regarded wide receiver class. However, Billick said last season's NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Anquan Boldin's success story is an exception, not the rule.

Scared away by a surgically-repaired knee and pedestrian sprint times, NFL teams downgraded Boldin last spring.

Five wide receivers, including fellow Arizona Cardinals rookie Bryant Johnson, were selected before Boldin was tabbed in the second round with the 54th overall pick.

Boldin debuted with 101 receptions for 1,377 yards and eight touchdowns.

"You would think that receiver would be like defensive back or running back, a position where maybe a guy can come in on sheer athleticism and just play," Billick said. "For whatever reason, that position is one that the Anquan Boldins of the world are truly the exception."

Billick said the Ravens are unwilling to manipulate their draft board to unwarrantedly push a receiver up to their 51st overall pick.

"It's like going to the bar at 1 o'clock in the morning, that's not the time to decide whether you're going to be faithful to your wife," Billick quipped. "On draft day with the clock going, that's not the time to decide, ‘Are we going to be true to our principles and stick with our board or reach up?'"

Regardless of what Baltimore does in next month's draft, Billick said the offense needs more production from 2000 first-round draft pick Travis Taylor.

Taylor caught only 39 passes for 632 yards and three touchdowns last season.

"We need for some presence at receiver to show up," Billick said. "Travis, anybody, to augment the best running back in the game (Jamal Lewis), one of the best tight ends (Todd Heap) and one of the best defenses.

"That's why we were so aggressive about going after T.O. If we can find that element, we can do some damage. It's going to be important that Travis steps up and fulfills the promise he's had for all these years."

NOTES: Incoming Ravens majority owner Steve Bisciotti said Tuesday that the team will continue to hold its annual training camp at McDaniel College. He cited tradition, proximity to the Ravens' Owings Mills training complex and the college's accommodations, as determining factors. … Both Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher declared the Ravens as favorites to win the AFC North again.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.


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