Ravens exploring Leftwich possibility

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome acknowledged that the team has conducted a "couple of small conversations" regarding free agent quarterback Byron Leftwich, exploring the possibility of acquiring a once-coveted player they were unable to land during the NFL draft four years ago.

"At this point, we have had a couple of small conversations," said Newsome in a telephone interview Monday afternoon, adding that he has discussed Leftwich with Ravens coach Brian Billick. "But that's about it at this point."

No deal is believed to be imminent as the Ravens try to determine whether bringing in Leftwich would be disruptive to locker room chemistry. If Baltimore signed Leftwich, it's expected that he would be the No. 3 quarterback this season behind starter Steve McNair and backup Kyle Boller, which means that rookie Troy Smith would have to be cut and exposed to the waiver wire prior to any practice squad maneuver.

There are believed to be roughly seven teams with varying degrees of interest in the former Jacksonville Jaguars starter, including the Ravens, Atlanta Falcons, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions as Leftwich's agent, Tom Condon, has marketed him aggressively over the past few days.

The Ravens have the most history with Leftwich, who was recently cut by Jacksonville as David Garrard was named the starter.

Baltimore tried to trade up to the Minnesota Vikings' No. 7 overall pick in 2003 for Leftwich, a Washington native who starred at Marshall. However, the phone at NFL headquarters was busy when Newsome tried to finalize the trade.

The Ravens wound up drafting linebacker Terrell Suggs with the No. 10 pick and traded back into the first round to draft Boller, who was benched last year when the team traded for McNair.

The Ravens held discussions this spring about trading up in the first round to draft Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, but Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage executed a trade with the Dallas Cowboys to nab Quinn with the 22nd pick.

There are a few sound reasons to consider adding Leftwich. McNair will turn 35 after this season, Boller is entering the final year of his contract and Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State, is raw and unproven.

However, Leftwich had a spotty tenure with the Jaguars, including multiple injuries, inconsistent play and a stormy relationship with Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio. They reportedly were barely on speaking terms Saturday, when Del Rio gave Leftwich the bad news that he was out.

Leftwich had repeatedly second-guessed Del Rio during interviews, and Del Rio had branded Leftwich a liar about his various injuries. Leftwich has struggled with knee and ankle issues and has missed 15 games over the past two seasons, including 10 last year with an injured left ankle.

In the past, conditioning has been an issue for the 6-foot-5, 242-pounder, but he reported to training camp in much better shape this year.

The 27-year-old has completed 58.7 percent of his career passes for 9,042 yards, 51 touchdowns and 36 interceptions for an 80.5 quarterback rating. He has struggled to avoid pressure, being sacked 76 times in his career, with 25 fumbles, including 10 lost.

Leftwich was clearly outplayed this preseason by Garrard, completing just 19 of 38 throws for 226 yards and one touchdown. He displayed spotty mechanics and footwork and overthrowing receivers on deep patterns.

The Jaguars saved $5.145 million in salary by cutting Leftwich prior to the first game. He was entering the final year of his contract.

Prior to a game between the Jaguars and the Ravens in 2003, Newsome revisited the draft-day intrigue surrounding Leftwich in an interview with the Times.

"It's been well-documented that we tried to make the trade to that spot and would have drafted Byron Leftwich," said Newsome who was never able to reach NFL director of football operations Joel Bussert at the league office in New York. "Byron is a very poised guy, very accurate with the strong arm that you need, but the opportunity to get Terrell and Kyle was something unique that we didn't think we could do. That puts us ahead of the game in my book."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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