Ravens'add Rolle to deep secondary

OWINGS MILLS -- Days after cornerback Gary Baxter's abrupt departure, the Baltimore Ravens have renewed visions of creating a bombproof secondary with the acquisition of Samari Rolle.<br><br> The Ravens filled the glaring hole dug by Baxter when he joined the Cleveland Browns after reneging on a verbal agreement by signing the highly regarded Rolle to a six-year, $30.5 million contract that includes an $11 million signing bonus.

Rolle wants to form the top cornerback tandem in the league with All-Pro Chris McAlister in a defensive backfield that already includes the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year in safety Ed Reed.

"I think we'll be No. 1 if we handle our business," Rolle said Monday. "Chris is an All-Pro. He's getting better every year. I feel like I'm entering my prime. I think we can match up against anybody."

Perhaps the Ravens actually can.

Months after Baxter and McAlister were repeatedly picked on by the Cincinnati Bengals' Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh in a 27-26 loss, new defensive coordinator Rex Ryan has the weapons to implement the high-pressure, 46 defense devised by his father, Buddy Ryan.

"I think the 46 became a reality," Ryan said. "I have a feeling we're going to be seeing it a lot more than we had initially planned. There's no question that these are two premier corners, and we have three if Deion Sanders comes back. That will give us a chance to lock down and be more creative on defense."

Rolle, who turns 29 in August, will earn $12 million during the first year of his contract with a $1 million base salary. He will earn $18 million over the first three years of the deal.

The former Tennessee Titans' standout was a Pro Bowl selection in 2000 who has intercepted 23 career passes with 93 pass deflections.

A slight 6-foot and 175 pounds, Rolle is viewed as more of a pure coverage specialist than the imposing Baxter.

"He's an unusual talent," Ryan said. "He can blanket some of the top receivers. When I found out we were getting him, I told my wife, 'My gosh, you might be able to coach this bunch.'"

In 2000, Rolle intercepted seven passes to anchor a Titans defense that went 13-3 and lost in the AFC divisional round to the Ravens.

"When I think about the great defenses, they always have two guys who can cover on the outside," Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "I think right now we can take our tandem of Samari and Chris McAlister and match up with anybody in the league as far as their ability to cover."

Rolle does arrive with some excess baggage in medical issues and his domestic violence arrest last month in Tennessee.

Rolle was born with a spinal condition called stenosis, which was discovered during his visit with the Kansas City Chiefs. However, Rolle didn't fail his physical.

"It's the same thing I was born with," Rolle said. "I guess [the Chiefs] might have heard I was coming here, but when I was there it never came up."

Rolle suffered two neck and spine injuries during his seven-year stint in Tennessee, which cut him last month because of salary-cap issues. Rolle played a career-low 12 games last season and recorded 28 tackles and an interception because of a left knee injury that required surgery after the season.

"That is not a concern," Newsome said.

Rolle is the second former Titan to join the Ravens since the free agent signing period began as Baltimore added wide receiver Derrick Mason last week.

"When we found out [Mason] was coming to Baltimore, I told my wife, 'They play Tennessee next year, he's going to kill them,'" said Rolle, who will wear No. 22.

Newsome didn't detail where the Baxter deal broke down amidst reports that the Ravens reduced his signing bonus to $7 million from $10 million.

"A deal is not a deal until you get the ink on the paper," Newsome said. "We never stop. We move on."

Rolle was arrested Feb. 15 on a misdemeanor domestic assault charge stemming from a Valentine's Day altercation that left his wife, Danisha, with a cut over her left eye that required three stitches.

Rolle's next court date is April 6 in Franklin, Tenn. He could receive probation or a maximum sentence of one year in jail if convicted.

While holding his wife's hand at his introductory news conference, Rolle declined to elaborate on the situation.

"It's a legal matter that we can't comment on, but my wife has been with me on every trip and we're in love," Rolle said.

"Everything will work out."

NOTES: Contrary to a broadcast report, the Ravens are not in "serious" discussions for free agent wide receiver Ike Hilliard. Talks are preliminary. ... Steelers offensive guard Keydrick Vincent, whose agent spoke with Baltimore on Sunday, visited the Cleveland Browns. ... Rolle said he spoke with Sanders, but didn't reveal whether he is going to play another season. "He's like a big brother to me," Rolle said. "You can ask him." ... Newsome said he could still sign another receiver, a right guard and a linebacker. "We are still in very good cap shape to still be able to be a player in free agency," Newsome said. "We are not maxed out against the cap." ... Linebacker Ed Hartwell will visit the Seattle Seahawks today.
 

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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