Baxter wants market value to play with Ravens

OWINGS MILLS -- Gary Baxter has a defined set of preferences.<br><br> Scheduled for unrestricted free agent status next month, he wants to sign a new, lucrative contract with the Baltimore Ravens, he wants to play cornerback, not safety, and while Baxter would like to strike a new deal before the free agent signing period begins March 2, he's curious about discovering his market value.

Baxter didn't confirm or deny reports that he's already turned down a Baltimore contract proposal that included a $10 million signing bonus and is looking for $12 million to sign.

"It's a negotiating process, and I don't know what my price is," said Baxter in a telephone interview Monday from Hawaii after attending the Pro Bowl. "I think I've proven to the Ravens what I bring to the table and they know that I'm a fast physical cornerback.

"I don't know exactly what my figure is to be honest with you. Ten million, $12 million, who knows? The figure is whatever the market will pay. If I put a price tag on it, I would be cheating myself. I want to be back in Baltimore."

The Ravens continue to negotiate with Baxter's agent, David Dunn, but there is no specific time table for a deal, according to Baxter. General manager Ozzie Newsome said immediately after signing Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister in October that Baxter was one of his top priorities, and that stance hasn't changed.

Baxter, 26, is a large, durable cornerback. He's listed at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds and has started 54 games since being drafted in the second round out of Baylor in 2001.

He has started at both cornerback and safety, but wants to concentrate primarily on cornerback.

"Because I'm a big cornerback, and I can hit and will come up in run support, I think people think of me as a safety," Baxter said. "I'm not selling myself, but facts are facts. Look at my tackles, look at how I cover inside receivers and outside receivers.

"Other people in this league see me as a corner. I view myself as an all-around cornerback. To me, I'm more valuable than any other cornerback."

Baxter started 16 games last season and finished with 86 tackles, 14 pass deflections, an interception, two sacks and two forced fumbles.

In 2003, Baxter started eight games apiece at cornerback and safety and finished third on the team with 106 tackles, recording three sacks and 16 pass deflections.
While Baxter said he wasn't selling himself, he did emphasize a few points beyond his statistics.

"I've never been in trouble and I'm a great guy in the community," Baxter said. "Those are things that also need to be taken into consideration."

By March 2, Baxter would be free to sign with any other team. Until that point, the Ravens have exclusive negotiating rights.

"I would rather not test the market," Baxter said. "That's my loyalty to the Ravens. I hope the Ravens don't let it come to that. I hope we can come to an agreement."

Besides Baxter, other high-profile free agent cornerbacks include the Washington Redskins' Fred Smoot and the Oakland Raiders' Charles Woodson.

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown signed a six-year, $30 million contract in November that included a $7.5 million signing bonus. McAlister received a seven-year, $55 million contract in October that included $17.5 million in guaranteed money over the first two years.

"I've got to get what I'm worth," Baxter said. "How many players in the league can play cornerback and safety? How valuable am I?"

NOTE: Wide receiver Kevin Johnson told his hometown newpaper that he intends to opt out of his contract with the Ravens, surrendering a $1 million roster bonus, and would like to play for the Eagles.

Baltimore acquired Johnson for a fourth-round draft pick last spring and he caught 35 passes after averaging 66 receptions in his prior five seasons.

"I've never had my choice," Johnson told The Trenton Times (N.J.) "Let me go on the record and say I would love to play for the Eagles."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times and Ravens Insider.

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