Ravens part ways with Johnson

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens terminated the contract of veteran wide receiver Kevin Johnson on Tuesday and didn't assign the franchise tag to retain linebacker Ed Hartwell or cornerback Gary Baxter.<br><br> That means Hartwell and Baxter are free to sign with any NFL team beginning March 2 at the launch of the free agent signing period.

Johnson, who caught a team-high but career-low 35 passes last season after being obtained for a fourth-round draft pick, will forego $1.4 million in salary after stating a preference to play for the Philadelphia Eagles.

While Baxter remains in contract negotiations with the Ravens and is hopeful of returning to Baltimore, the agent for Hartwell and offensive guard Bennie Anderson predicted they wouldn't be back.

"I do not foresee Ed Hartwell or Bennie Anderson coming back to the Ravens," said Harold Lewis, who also represents restricted free agent linebacker Bart Scott. "We're getting a lot of interest from other teams."

Hartwell is a 6-foot-1, 250-pound run-stuffer who may be too expensive for the Ravens even though they are reportedly $17 million underneath the league's salary cap limit. Baltimore is already heavily invested at linebacker with Pro Bowl selections Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware and Terrell Suggs.

Hartwell recorded 141 tackles last season as the Ravens allowed 3.6 yards per rushing attempt, tied for best in the AFC. He has started 46 games since being drafted in the fourth round in 2001, registering 140 tackles in 2003 and 191 tackles in 2002.

The Ravens could opt to re-sign free agent T.J. Slaughter to replace Hartwell, or go with one less linebacker if they switch from the 3-4 to the 4-3 as their primary defensive alignment.

Anderson, who is 6-5 and 345 pounds and a strong run blocker, has started 56 games for the Ravens. He's not nearly as adept in pass blocking situations.

If Anderson isn't re-signed, the Ravens could potentially have Mike Flynn start at right guard if they are able to sign free agent center Casey Rabach.

However, Rabach is expected to draw major interest in free agency, and the Ravens signed Flynn a year ago to a five-year deal worth $11.25 million that includes a $4 million signing bonus.

Neither player is ideally suited at 300 pounds for offensive guard, so Baltimore could just move Flynn back to center and sign a new offensive guard.

Meanwhile, receiver Jerry Porter won't be on the Ravens' free agent list. Porter reportedly agreed to a lucrative multi-year offer with the Oakland Raiders after initially declining a five-year, $20 million offer sheet.

Wide receiver Plaxico Burress is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the Pittsburgh Steelers declined to designate him as their franchise player. That would have cost Pittsburgh $7.768 million for one season, the average of the top five wide receiver salaries in the league.

Other free agent receiver possibilities for Baltimore include: former Tennessee Titans starter Derrick Mason, Cincinnati's T.J. Houshmandzadeh, New England's David Givens, Detroit's Tai Streets and, possibly, Laveranues Coles if he's released by the Washington Redskins.

Carolina wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad led the NFL in receiving yards (1,405) and touchdown catches (16) last season, but costs $12.5 million against the Panthers' 2005 salary cap. He will likely be released unless he agrees to significantly restructure his contract

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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