Ravens make it official with Stewart

OWINGS MILLS – Former Pro Bowl quarterback Kordell Stewart accepted the Baltimore Ravens' offer to back up starter Kyle Boller, and will join the team before passing camp concludes today after agreeing in principle to a one-year contract.<br>

Stewart, 31, stayed in Baltimore overnight after visiting the Ravens' training complex two days ago hoping that a deal could be reached. Despite some haggling, the former Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears starter will be paid the veteran minimum of $760,000 to stand in for Anthony Wright while he recovers from recent shoulder surgery to repair a partially torn labrum. 

"Having the opportunity to compete against Kordell over the years, I think we have a very good history with him as a competitor," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said Wednesday evening. "After scouting him all those years, we also know what his strengths and weaknesses are. 

"The history of quarterbacks getting injured in this league is incredible. As of tomorrow, he is one injury away from starting the first game against Cleveland. That's just the nature of our business."

Wright started the final seven games last season in leading Baltimore to an AFC North title, taking over after Boller underwent leg surgery. In 2002, Jeff Blake started the final 10 games after Chris Redman aggravated a herniated disc.

Stewart was the lowest-ranked passer in the league last season with a 56.8 quarterback ranking, throwing for 1,418 yards with seven touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

He was far more successful against Baltimore during his days with the Steelers.

Stewart was a Pro Bowl selection in 2001 and sports a 5-0 career mark in games played in Baltimore.

In a 26-21 win over Baltimore three years ago that clinched the AFC Central title for Pittsburgh, Stewart passed for a career-high 333 yards. He found Bobby Shaw for a 90-yard touchdown pass behind free safety Rod Woodson and also rushed for 55 yards.

"Whenever they beat us, Kordell took control of the game," receiver Travis Taylor said. "He brought a different presence to the game."

Stewart also engineered another win over Baltimore that season in an AFC divisional playoff game.

The Ravens open the season Sept. 12 against the Cleveland Browns followed by games against the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals.

"If he can have as much success against those other teams, including Pittsburgh, as he had against us we could be sitting at 3-0 early in the season," said Newsome, who added that Stewart is in top condition from workouts in Atlanta with retired former Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe

Then, Newsome quickly added: "If he has to play, if he has to play."

One year after what appeared to be a breakthrough 2001 campaign, Stewart fell out of favor in Pittsburgh due to his chronic inconsistency and was replaced by Tommy Maddox. He joined Chicago after talking with Baltimore prior to last season, but was eventually supplanted by rookie Rex Grossman.

"Kordell has always had a lot of respect for the Ravens and the passion that they have for football," agent Leigh Steinberg said. "He had a terrific experience on his visit and came away very impressed with Brian Billick and Ozzie Newsome. Kordell is excited about this opportunity. He knows what's being asked of him and accepts that role."

Stewart will count only $450,000 against the salary cap and had no other suitors, drawing middling interest from the Buffalo Bills months ago.

"I think he's hungry, and I think he's appreciative of the opportunity," Ravens offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "If it does come to fruition, we're going to have ourselves what we wanted: a quality veteran backup that can help tutor Kyle and be ready to come off the bench and play if we need him."

Baltimore had the lowest-ranked passing game in the league last season as Boller finished with the second-lowest quarterback rating (62.4) ahead of Stewart.

Newsome reiterated that the Ravens aren't looking to revive Stewart's multi-dimensional "Slash" role. However, he still views Stewart as an uncommonly gifted athlete.

"He was physically gifted going in, and 31 is young for a quarterback," Newsome said. "He's not the same athlete as he was when he was 23, but he has so much ability. He still has retained a lot of it."

NOTES: Along with Cleveland, Green Bay and Houston, the Ravens have an interest in former Steelers Pro Bowl outside linebacker Jason Gildon. Gildon, 31, was officially released Wednesday, allowing Pittsburgh to save $3.65 million against the salary cap. … Wright said he's hopeful he could return by October, although his arm is in a sling and he's not slated to throw a football for four months. "I'm feeling very optimistic and I'm confident I'm not going to miss too much time," he said. …The Ravens signed the following exclusive-rights free agents: safety Will Demps, wide receiver Randy Hymes and nose guard Maake Kemoeatu. … Ravens coach Brian Billick will be inducted into the Redlands High School Hall of Fame today. A former quarterback and safety, Billick holds the California prep record with 21 career interceptions. In Billick's absence, Cavanaugh and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan ran practice. … Include Ravens special teams coordinator Gary Zauner, among the NFL representatives curious about the raw athleticism of pro wrestler Brock Lesnar. … The Ravens were repeatedly swarmed Wednesday by cicadas' errant flying patterns.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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