Ravens on verge of deal with Stewart

OWINGS MILLS – Barring a last-minute snag, the Baltimore Ravens are on the verge of signing former Pro Bowl quarterback Kordell Stewart as a backup to starter Kyle Boller.<br><br>A one-year contract for the veteran minimum is the offer the Ravens are dangling to Stewart, and a deal could be reached prior to the team starting a two-day passing camp today (Wednesday).

The Ravens face no apparent competition for his services and planned to talk again with his agent, Leigh Steinberg, as soon as Tuesday night or this morning.

The former Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears starter visited the Ravens' training complex Tuesday, meeting with Ravens coach Brian Billick and his staff along with general manager Ozzie Newsome. Although Stewart, 31, left without signing a contract, team spokesman Kevin Byrne said the quarterback decided to stay in town in hope that an agreement can be reached.

The Ravens' salary stance for Stewart, or any other quarterback, isn't going to change, so it's essentially a take-it-or-leave-it situation.

"We had a good visit with Kordell, we're in contact with him and his representative and we think it would be a good fit for us," said Billick, who won't attend practice today as he tends to league business in Indianapolis. "There's no waiting and there's a possibility that he could join us right away. 

"We'll deal with whatever the market is. This is the market. Right now, Kordell is the most viable answer to our situation."

Because the scenario of several quarterbacks being available after June 1 hasn't materialized, the Ravens said they weren't left with many alternatives to stand in for Anthony Wright while he recovers from shoulder surgery. 

The St. Louis Rams released Kurt Warner, the two-time NFL MVP, on Tuesday, but he's already earmarked for the New York Giants.

Billick said it remained unclear when, or if, the Cleveland Browns would release former starter Tim Couch amidst stalled trade discussions with the Green Bay Packers.

Stewart's chief strengths are his mobility and arm strength. His drawbacks are periods of inconsistency and bouts with inaccuracy.

Stewart started seven games last season for Chicago and was the lowest-ranked quarterback in the league behind Boller with a 56.8 ranking. Since-fired Bears coach Dick Jauron occasionally had Stewart run option plays to try to capitalize on his speed and revive the versatility of his "Slash" days in Pittsburgh.

It didn't work out well, though.

Stewart passed for 1,418 yards and seven touchdowns with 12 interceptions.

In a 49-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers to open the season, Stewart completed 14-of-34 passes (41.2 percent) for 95 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and five sacks for a 21.9 rating.

His best statistical outing came in a 28-3 win over the Arizona Cardinals when he completed 22-of-37 passes for 284 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a rushing score for a 101.6 rating.

In a decade in the NFL, Stewart has passed for 14,746 yards, 77 touchdowns and 84 interceptions for a 70.7 rating. He has a 5-0 mark in games played in Baltimore and was a Pro Bowl selection in 2001.

"We obviously know one another and have competed and just wanted to make sure he understood the parameters that he was coming in under, which he does," Billick said. "What draws us to Kordell is he's a good young man, an experienced, Pro Bowl player, who knows what it means to manage a team with a profile like ours: play great defense, run the football effectively. He's got a familiarity with that and that's what made him attractive to us."
Wright will likely begin the season on the physically unable to perform list. However, the Ravens have invested a two-year contract in Wright worth $3 million that includes a $1.5 million signing bonus.

Billick reiterated that he expects Stewart to realize that he won't be competing with Boller and that Wright will regain his backup role once he's healthy. 

"There's a competitor in you that makes you want to do more, but Kordell understands what Kyle's situation is, understands what Anthony means to us and what he's going to be asked to do," Billick said. "Out of respect for Kordell and the situation, we need to be assertive."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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