Ravens' receiver options increasing

OWINGS MILLS -- The Minnesota Vikings' prospective owner said he isn't interested in trading Randy Moss, but that doesn't mean the Baltimore Ravens are out of options to upgrade the wide receiver position.<br><br> Even though Moss is apparently not on the trading block, the Ravens can still take advantage of a deepening pool of free agent wide receivers following the reported impending cuts of Washington's Laveranues Coles and Tennessee's Derrick Mason.

The Ravens had the 31st-ranked passing game in the league last season and missed the playoffs with a 9-7 mark, and are expected to pursue multiple possibilities in free agency as they are reportedly $17 million underneath the salary cap.

Depending on whether the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers decide to assign the franchise designation to receivers Jerry Porter and Plaxico Burress, respectively, by this afternoon's deadline, Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome might have even more to consider.

As for Moss, incoming Vikings owner Reggie Fowler made it pretty clear that he wants to hold on to the mercurial receiver despite his controversial antics.

"I think Mr. Moss is if not the finest, one of the finest receivers in the league today, and I think he's a winner," Fowler told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "A lot of times when you want to win, you get excited. So, I look forward to working with Randy, and I think he'll do all the things we need him to do.

"I don't know that you take some of the best players in the league and start trading them. We need those people to help us win, and I think Randy's one of those guys."

The disgruntled Coles has reportedly become frustrated with the Redskins' lack of a deep passing game despite catching a career-high 90 passes last season, and Washington coach Joe Gibbs is inclined toward accommodating his request to be waived. NFL teams are allowed to begin releasing players today.

Meanwhile, Mason, 31, is expected to be cut as soon as today as part of the Titans' efforts to get underneath the salary cap.

Mason has had four consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons and has averaged 81 receptions for 1,101 yards and seven touchdowns over the last five seasons with two Pro Bowl selections. He's due a $1.5 roster bonus and a $3.2 million salary for next season.

The Carolina Panthers could opt to release Muhsin Muhammad because he's due a $10 million roster bonus.

The Ravens could also look at other potential targets like Cincinnati's T.J. Houshmandzadeh, New England's David Givens and Detroit's Tai Streets.

Travis Taylor, a disappointing former first-round draft pick, could return to Baltimore but it would have to be at a reduced salary.

Kevin Johnson, who caught a team-high 35 passes for the Ravens last season, has said he wants to opt out of his contract and forego $1.4 million in salary.

The Ravens are likely to retain restricted free agent receiver Randy Hymes.

Currently, Baltimore's receiving corps under contract consists of Clarence Moore, Devard Darling, Derek Abney and Fred Stamps.

The Ravens' primary focus for this week will be on the league's annual scouting combine in Indianapolis, where a delegation of coaches and executives will evaluate potential draft picks and rookie free agents beginning Wednesday.

Besides trying to create a new-look passing game, the Ravens are likely to consider signings along the offensive and defensive line. The team's major priority for their own unrestricted free agents is cornerback Gary Baxter, who could command a signing bonus in excess of $10 million.

Inside linebacker Ed Hartwell is expected to depart in free agency, and the Ravens are unlikely to use the franchise tag to retain Baxter or Hartwell.

Hartwell has made no secret that he doesn't expect Baltimore, which is already heavily invested at linebacker with Pro Bowl selections Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware and Terrell Suggs, to bring him back.

"I think I'm a star," Hartwell said. "If you like the engine in your car, if you like the wire behind your wall, you will love Ed Hartwell, the working class."

The Ravens' other unrestricted free agents include center Casey Rabach, defensive end Marques Douglas, offensive guard Bennie Anderson, nickel back Deion Sanders, offensive tackle Ethan Brooks, quarterback Kordell Stewart, kickoff specialist Wade Richey, long snapper Joe Maese and linebacker T.J. Slaughter.

As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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