Ravens to sign Anderson

OWINGS MILLS -- Four-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle and former Cincinnati Bengals team captain Willie Anderson agreed to terms with the Baltimore Ravens on a three-year contract worth roughly $11 million Thursday night, according to his agent. The pending move injects a youthful offensive line with a proven veteran presence.

It's believed that the Ravens will consider inserting Anderson into the starting lineup at some point, but it may be too soon for him to play against the Bengals on Sunday in the season opener at M&T Bank Stadium.

However, Anderson badly wants to play against his old team.

The 6-foot-5, 340-pound lineman is scheduled to arrive at the Ravens' training complex Friday to officially sign a deal that includes a $1.67 million signing bonus. Anderson, 33, was cut by the Bengals recently after refusing to accept a pay cut, choosing the Ravens over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, St. Louis Rams and the San Diego Chargers.

Anderson turned down visits to those teams, including one with Tampa Bay originally set for Thursday, after meeting earlier this week with Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and several players, including middle linebacker Ray Lewis, and passing a physical at team headquarters.

"I think it couldn't have been a better fit for Willie than to come to a great organization like Baltimore that has a great tradition of winning," said Terry Bolar, Anderson's agent. "I thought we could help that nucleus by bringing Willie there. He's a great addition to that locker room and could really help those young guys on the offensive line.

"Willie is a loyal and honorable guy, a great person to have on your football team. It was a great situation for Willie to go with a Hall of Famer like Ozzie Newsome, a great owner in Steve Bisciotti and a great offensive line coach in John Matsko. The Ravens really made him feel welcome."

If Anderson doesn't become an immediate starter upfront, he could also provide valuable insurance in case anything happens to starting tackles Jared Gaither and Adam Terry. They missed the majority of the preseason with sprained ankles.

Anderson is a potential anchor at right tackle, and could either replace Terry or allow him to slide back to the left side if Gaither falters at protecting rookie quarterback Joe Flacco's blindside or gets injured again.

Anderson has started 173 of 181 career games after being drafted in the first round in 1996 out of Auburn, but lost his starting job during training camp to Stacy Andrews.

His experience dwarfs the Ravens' offensive linemen, who are led by center Jason Brown's 29 career starts.

Anderson is due an $830,000 base salary this season that includes incentives that can boost the deal to $1 million if he plays 40 percent of the snaps. If he triggers that escalator clause, then his total compensation will be $3.5 million this year. He was due to make $3.1 million from the Bengals prior to being cut.

"This wasn't a decision based on my play, I want to make that clear," Anderson told Cincinnati reporters after being cut. "They weren't comfortable with two guys making big salaries at the same position. I'm not mad or bitter about this, but I am disappointed in the timing."

Anderson signed a five-year, $32 million contract extension prior to the 2006 season and was named to the Pro Bowl for four consecutive years.

He was limited to a career-low seven games and five starts last season due to injuries, ending his streak of Pro Bowl appearances. "Willie hopes to help the running backs get some yards and to protect the quarterback," Bolar said. "Willie is healthy and ready to do whatever he has to do to help the Ravens win again."

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

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