Ravens pondering quarterback future

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens are aware that they're approaching another perplexing quarterback crossroads. Not tomorrow, not next week, and perhaps not even until next year, the Ravens are going to have to formulate and execute a contingency plan for who will eventually succeed veteran Steve McNair.

Determining who will ultimately step under center when the McNair era ends will hinge on several fluid issues.

How much longer will McNair, a three-time Pro Bowl passer who led Baltimore to an unprecedented 13-3 record this season, perform at a high level considering he'll celebrate his 34th birthday next month?

From a salary-cap standpoint, can the Ravens afford for McNair to be their quarterback beyond another two or three more seasons?

His five-year contract has a maximum value of $32 million, including $10 million in total compensation last season. While his annual salaries of $3 million in 2007 and $4 million in $2008 are manageable, he's due higher base salaries of $6 million apiece in the final two years of his contract, 2009 and 2010, according to NFL Players Association figures.

"I have come to the realization that Steve could play two years, three years, I don't know, but I'm already starting to think about who could be the next trigger-puller," said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who traded a fourth-round draft pick in this year's draft to the Tennessee Titans last June in exchange for McNair. "Whether it's going to be Kyle [Boller], someone in this draft, someone in next year's draft or someone on someone else's team like Steve came from someone else's team."

Complicating the issue further is whether the Ravens will want to extend former first-round draft pick Kyle Boller when his rookie deal expires after next season.

Boller had a rocky run as a starter for three seasons before being replaced by McNair, but developed into a reliable backup in limited action last season. He completed 33 of 55 passes for 485 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions and a 104.0 quarterback rating.

"We've got Kyle under contract for one more year," Newsome said. "Are the chips going to fall that he is going to get a chance to play enough for us to extend the contract? I don't know."

The strong-armed former Cal-Berkeley star is affordable as he's set to earn $797,500 in 2007 after making $1.63 million next season.

If the Ravens are inclined to wait until next year to address the quarterback situation through free agency, highly regarded Atlanta Falcons backup Matt Schaub is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. A restricted free agent this year, he'll likely locked in at a salary that guarantees first and third-round draft pick compensation if another team signed him to an offer sheet and the Falcons opted not to match. That offseason scenario is unlikely to unfold since starter Michael Vick is prone to erratic play and off-field behavior.

If the Ravens want to draft a quarterback this year, they would likely be looking at a thin crop after top prospects like LSU's JaMarcus Russell and Notre Dame's Brady Quinn are grabbed within the first couple of picks.

Other first-day quarterback possibilities include Hawaii's Colt Brennan, Ohio State's Troy Smith, Michigan State's Drew Stanton, Stanford's Trent Edwards and Houston's Kevin Kolb. The Ravens have the 29th overall pick of the first round.

Meanwhile, it's possible that Boller might want a fresh start and a change of scenery. He has drawn heavy criticism in the past from media and fans.

One published report noted that the Carolina Panthers could be interested in Boller when his deal is up.

Boller was praised again Tuesday by Ravens coach Brian Billick for his attitude in accepting his demotion.

"Obviously, it's a tough experience for a guy that has been a starter to then sit in the role that he did, and I think he was magnificent at it," Billick said. "That's exactly what his role will be going into next year.

"Although he was anxious about it, he never resigned himself to it. You don't want someone who says, ‘Gee, I'm fine doing this.' He understood and accepted the role and did what he could for this team, and I'm pleased with the way that he did it."

NOTE: One day after linebacker Bart Scott was named to the Pro Bowl team as Ray Lewis' replacement, the Ravens released a statement that Dr. Leigh Ann Curl, the team's chief orthopedic surgeon, recommended that Lewis withdraw from the Pro Bowl because of a hand injury suffered against the Colts.

According to NFL protocol, Lewis had to have a medical reason confirmed in order for linebacker Bart Scott to be officially named as his replacement for the Pro Bowl. This will be Scott's first Pro Bowl appearance after a season where he registered 135 tackles and 9 ½ sacks.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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