Ravens primed for free agency

OWINGS MILLS -- Free agency officially begins at midnight, and the Baltimore Ravens are pursuing wide receivers and blockers while trying to strike a deal with starting cornerback Gary Baxter.<br><br> Wide receiver is a glaring need, but it's not the only position Baltimore is likely to address after other franchises' initial spending spree.

While Baxter is the Ravens' top priority among their dozen unrestricted free agents and he remains optimistic of striking a new deal, they are apparently millions apart in contract discussions with his agent.

"I'm going to see what's out there, but I want to be back with the Ravens and they know that," said Baxter, who faces market competition from cornerbacks Ty Law, Samari Rolle and Fred Smoot. "Hopefully, we'll get something done soon."

Meanwhile, the agent for former Tennessee Titans wide receiver Derrick Mason said no deal is imminent with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who reportedly lead for his services ahead of the Ravens and New York Jets.

The Ravens also have interest in Cincinnati Bengals wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who has been prominently linked to the New York Giants. Benefiting from the presence of Pro Bowl selection Chad Johnson, Houshmandzadeh caught a career-high 73 passes last season.

"If they think I've only done it one year, they don't have to worry because I'm just going to get better," Houshmandzadeh told the Bengals' team Web site.

Other possible receiver options include: Plaxico Burress, David Patten, Tai Streets, Cedrick Wilson and Joey Galloway.
The Ravens have acknowledged trade discussions for Washington Redskins receiver Rod Gardner.

Inside linebacker Ed Hartwell isn't expected to return because he's likely to command a high price from other suitors, including the Philadelphia Eagles, Bengals, Jaguars, Colts and Jets.

"I'm expecting a lot of teams to call at 12:01 a.m. and offer Ed significant dollars to join their organization," said Harold Lewis, Hartwell's agent. "I think something will be done quickly with Ed, but nothing is imminent with any specific team."

Lewis also represents offensive guard Bennie Anderson, who's not expected to be back with Baltimore.

"Bennie has gotten a lot of interest, and it wouldn't surprise me if something got done during the first week," Lewis said.

Center Casey Rabach is expected to be targeted quickly this morning by free-spending Redskins owner Daniel Snyder after an impressive season filling in for Mike Flynn. Baltimore signed Flynn to an $11.25 million contract last year, and it's unlikely they would carry two high-end center salaries.

Travis Taylor, the 10th overall pick in 2000, may be ready for a change of scenery after a disappointing tenure. If he returns, it would be at a reduced salary.

Defensive end Marques Douglas is likely to receive more interest elsewhere.

In a planned shift to the 4-3, Terrell Suggs and Tony Weaver would be the defensive ends with Kelly Gregg and Dwan Edwards starting inside. Douglas' presence could potentially slow down Edwards' development.

The Ravens' shopping list could include offensive guards like Indianapolis' Rick DeMulling, Chicago's Aaron Taylor and Green Bay's Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera.

Offensive tackle has a few quality options like Buffalo's Jonas Jennings, the Jets' Kareem McKenzie and Tennessee's Fred Miller.
The Arizona Cardinals have placed tackle L.J. Shelton on the trading block along with former Ravens cornerback Duane Starks and linebacker Raynoch Thompson. Shelton could push or replace incumbent right tackle Orlando Brown.

The Ravens are reportedly $15 million underneath the salary cap, so they'll be able to afford this annual exercise in trying to upgrade the roster.

NOTES: The Ravens' other unrestricted free agents are quarterback Kordell Stewart, linebacker T.J. Slaughter, offensive tackle Ethan Brooks, long snapper Joe Maese, kicker Wade Richey and nickel back Deion Sanders. ... General manager Ozzie Newsome is scheduled to discuss free agency today at the team's training complex.

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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