Ravens' Monday notes

The Ravens are continuing talks to keep Gary Baxter off the free-agent market and still plan to keep the four-year veteran at cornerback.<br><br> There had been speculation that the Ravens were thinking of moving Baxter to safety and adding a cornerback through the draft or free agency (perhaps signing the Washington Redskins' Fred Smoot).

Baxter, who is set to become a free agent on March 2, said he would only re-sign with the Ravens as a cornerback. Ravens officials said their intentions remain on keeping Baxter as a starting cornerback.

"We have no predisposed plans that Gary is a safety," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "If Gary wants to focus in on corner, we understand that. If we re-sign Gary, it would certainly be to that end. But I'm not going to pigeonhole myself with any athlete to say this athlete will do this or that."

Baxter said he is optimistic he will sign a deal with the Ravens before free agency begins. Through his four seasons, Baxter has switched positions in the secondary four times, and he began the 2003 season at safety.

Baxter started all 16 games at cornerback in 2004. "I'm not going back to safety," Baxter said. "And you can print that as big as day."

Baxter registered 86 tackles last year, third best on the team. Cornerbacks generally make more money than safeties, and the Ravens would likely have to pay Baxter as a cornerback, including a double-digit signing bonus, even if he does eventually wind up at safety.

"I reserve the right to move Ray Lewis to safety if I think it's going to help us win," Billick said. "We're going to put our best 11 on the field and whatever it takes to win. So can I make a blanket statement that Gary Baxter will never play safety? No. Can I make a blanket statement that Ed Reed will never play corner? No.

"If Gary would like to play safety, we'd certainly entertain that. But we want Gary back."

NOTES, QUOTES
--FBI agents are investigating a threatening e-mail sent to the foundation of Ray Lewis, prompting them this week to search an Ohio home.

The agents served a search and seizure warrant about 10 a.m. Wednesday in Akron, Ohio, said Special Agent Robert Hawk of the FBI's Cleveland field office. One official said the person suspected of sending the e-mail is believed to be related to one of the two men killed in a brawl after which Lewis was charged with murder.

After festivities surrounding the 2000 Super Bowl in Atlanta, Lewis and two other men were charged with stabbing Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar in a street fight. Authorities dropped the murder charge against Lewis, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor obstruction of justice and was sentenced to a year of probation.

--The Ravens will have the fourth-toughest schedule based on last season's records. Besides playing their division games, they will face the entire AFC South, NFC North, the New York Jets and Denver Broncos.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "What will be there between now and March 2 will change dramatically. But you still have to do the work and anticipate, because there are still guys out there that we haven't anticipated, so that's the difficulty." -- Coach Brian Billick on trying to gauge the free-agent market before March.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Like the previous two seasons, the Ravens' priority remains boosting their receiving corps.

In 2003, Baltimore failed to lure free agent David Boston for a visit. Last season, the Ravens had their trade for Terrell Owens overturned by the league.

This year's free-agent class for receivers is only average. The Raiders' Jerry Porter and the Steelers' Plaxico Burress top that free-agent list. There is also a chance that the Panthers' Muhsin Muhammad could be a cap casualty.

NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES:
1. Wide receiver. The Ravens were the only team without a player catching at least 40 passes. With Kevin Johnson and Travis Taylor not likely to be retained, the team can't go into the season with such an unproven group (Clarence Moore, Randy Hymes and Devard Darling).

2. Offensive line. The right side is an unstable situation. Right tackle Orlando Brown's knee problems are a concern and might limit him throughout next season. Right guard Bennie Anderson is a free agent and the team could look to go younger here.

3. Inside linebacker. It's looking unlikely that the Ravens will be able to bring back Ed Hartwell, a three-year starter who might draw more money elsewhere in free agency. That means the Ravens will need another running mate for inside linebacker Ray Lewis.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: RG Bennie Anderson; CB Gary Baxter; OT Ethan Brooks; CB Dale Carter; DE Marques Douglas; LB Ed Hartwell; WR Kevin Johnson; LS Joe Maese; C Casey Rabach; PK Wade Richey; CB Deion Sanders; LB T.J. Slaughter; QB Kordell Stewart; WR Travis Taylor; CB Ray Walls.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: FS Will Demps; TE Darnell Dinkins; TE Terry Jones; NT Maake Kemoeatu; LB Bart Scott; RB Chester Taylor; SS Chad Williams; P Dave Zastudil.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: Currently unavailable.

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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