Ravens consider Marvel Smith

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens are scheduled to resume exploratory talks with Pittsburgh Steelers free agent offensive tackle Marvel Smith today. A former Pro Bowl selection, Smith missed the final 11 games of the regular season as well as the entire playoffs with a recurring disc injury.

Obviously, the Ravens will want to do their due diligence medically on Smith, a 30-year-old former second-round draft pick from Arizona State who has had two surgeries to alleviate problems that have included numbness in one leg.

Smith and his representatives are confident that his back problems are behind him and that he can pass an NFL physical. Smith, who has started 108 career games since his rookie year in 2000, is also drawing interest from the Oakland Raiders.

"I'm doing everything possible to deal with the situation I'm in," Smith said in a radio interview prior to the start of free agency. "This will be my 10th year, and it's obvious what I can do on the field. I can do anything they want me to do, and going through this situation, I hope, will be a benefit to me as a player."

If the Ravens were to sign Smith, it could affect the roster status of veteran offensive tackle Willie Anderson.

Anderson is entering the second year of a three-year, $11 million contract. The four-time Pro Bowl selection is due a $3.5 million base salary in 2009.

At this point, though, it looks like Anderson is in the team's plans.

"We talked to Ozzie Newsome about Willie coming back and we definitely expect him to be there and be the starter," said Terry Bolar, Anderson's agent. "He's working hard and preparing to be in the best condition. He's really happy up there.

"If they were to sign another player, Willie would welcome the challenge. Willie appreciates the opportunity. He's doing everything to prepare himself physically to come back and be dominant."

The Ravens haven't spoken recently with the agent for cornerback Samari Rolle, who's on the trading block and could possibly be released after the signing of former University of Maryland cornerback Domonique Foxworth to a four-year, $27.2 million deal that included $16.5 million in guaranteed money.

Rolle, who would like to be released, is due a $4.1 million base salary in 2009.

"No comment," said Peter Schaffer, Rolle's agent. "I haven't spoken to Ozzie."

After being cut by the Ravens on Friday, veteran defensive end Marques Douglas is drawing preliminary interest from the San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets and Denver Broncos.

A potential return to Baltimore for the former Howard University player hasn't been ruled out.

Douglas has prior stints with the 49ers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who traded him to Baltimore for a conditional draft pick last year.

Shortly after the season, the Ravens re-signed defensive end Dwan Edwards for the 2009 season with a $1 million base salary and a $400,000 signing bonus. The Ravens also recently signed restricted free agent defensive tackle Brandon McKinney to a three-year contract worth nearly $4 million.

Meanwhile, the Ray Lewis watch continues.

Since the All-Pro middle linebacker doesn't have the leverage of competing offers as other NFL teams are signing inside linebackers at a rapid pace and haven't been inclined to bid on Lewis, he's expected to ultimately return to Baltimore.

Whether Lewis will accept the Ravens' three-year, $24 million contract proposal that includes $17 million in guaranteed money or a different offer remains to be seen for the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

The Ravens arguably could lower the contract offer from a pure business standpoint, but it would probably be counterproductive in terms of team chemistry since it would infuriate an already frustrated veteran player.

"I'm sure Ray's a little disappointed because he's a proud guy and he knows he can play at a high level," former NFL defensive tackle Mike Golic, an ESPN radio personality, said in a telephone interview Sunday. "He's still an excellent player. Is he what he was in his prime? No, but his intangibles and leadership are still excellent. Is something off the fastball? A little bit, sure.

"When you're that long in the league, that's going to happen. In these times, the younger players will get the money. I think that sounds like a good offer from Baltimore. If nobody else is clamoring for him now in the first couple of days of free agency, it's not going to happen. I know he's prideful, but there's prideful and then there's reality."

Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for the Carroll County Times. Slow market for R. Lewis

By Aaron Wilson

OWINGS MILLS -- The NFL job market for Baltimore Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis is rapidly shrinking, and the cold shoulder he has received so far in free agency sets up his likely return to Baltimore as soon as next week.

Doors keep slamming shut on potential destinations for Lewis, whose three-year, $24 million contract proposal that includes $17 million guaranteed is still available from the Ravens. If the Ravens weren't concerned about Lewis' pride and contentment, they could consider reducing the offer since the 33-year-old doesn't own any real leverage since so many teams have already signed starting inside linebacker.

Among the teams that would appear to no longer need the services of the 10-time Pro Bowl selection: the Dallas Cowboys after signing former Atlanta Falcons middle linebacker Keith Brooking, the Denver Broncos after signing former Cleveland Browns middle linebacker Andra Davis, the New Orleans Saints after re-signing middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma for $34 million and, of course, the New York Jets who tabbed former Ravens inside linebacker Bart Scott with a $48 million pact instead of Lewis.

Lewis may have dreamed of wearing the Cowboys' star, according to Dallas linebacker DeMarcus Ware, but it looks like he'll wind up remaining in purple and black after becoming an unrestricted free agent following 13 years in Baltimore.

"I would think Ray Lewis is going to have plenty of opportunities," Jets coach Rex Ryan said after signing Scott. "He is one of the premier players in this league and I am sure Ray is not going to have any problems finding a job out there."

Yet, that job market appears to be of a singular quality: Baltimore.

While Lewis remains in South Florida as he plots his next move, his camp is now saying that Lewis chose not to take visits this weekend due to personal reasons as he's spending time with family. However, it's actually more likely that Lewis simply didn't have another team willing to pay him as much as he wants, so taking a visit would have been pointless.

One of Lewis' agents downplayed reports that Lewis is unhappy with the Ravens, including one from the NFL Network that cited a friend close to Lewis as saying he would rather retire than play for the Ravens.

On Friday, the league-owned NFL Network hastily backed off that report as former Ravens safety Rod Woodson said that he spoke with Lewis, who allegedly said that he has no problem with the Ravens and is looking forward to=2 0next season. Lewis frequently appears on that network, so the report and the correction raised a few eyebrows in NFL circles.

Ryan said the Jets passed on Lewis, who apparently made exorbitant financial demands to New York team officials, because of Scott's superior versatility.

"I think he is going to be more effective, even more so now with the Jet defense, because we are going to have some flexibility with him and David that we quite honestly never really had with Ray," Ryan said. "That is not taking anything away from Ray, but Ray was always the Mike 'backer. I think now we can switch Bart and David in and out and I think it's going to give some identification problems to offenses."

Retired Pittsburgh Steelers fullback Merril Hoge, who avidly studies game film, said that he believes Lewis' game has declined.

"He doesn't turn and run like he once did," Hoge said during an ESPN television appearance. "He doesn't dominate like he once did. He doesn't get off blocks like he once did. He doesn't have the same range, the same speed, the same quickness.

"Even though his skills have eroded, I think it would be much more magnified somewhere else than in Baltimore because of the familiarity. Learning new players and a new system, I think those diminished skills would be more visible."

NOTES: The Ravens remain interested in Pittsburgh Steelers free agent offensive tackle Marvel Smith, continuing preliminary discussions Saturday .. Those talks are expected to pick up again Monday. ... The breakdown on new Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth's four-year, $27.2 million deal that includes $16.5 million in guaranteed money features a $4 million signing bonus and a $3.38 reporting bonus this year. Foxworth's deal also includes $6 million in option bonuses. His base salaries are $620,000 for 2009, $3.2 million in 2010, which is only guaranteed in case of injury, $4.4 million in 2011 and $5.6 million in 2012. ... Ravens free agent safety Jim Leonhard began his visit with the Jets on Saturday night and is expected to eventually sign with New York. Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for the Carroll County Times.

Chester looking forward to opportunity

By Aaron Wilson

OWINGS MILLS -- Now that Jason Brown is off the roster, Chris Chester is preparing to become the Baltimore Ravens' full-time center.

In the wake of Brown officially signing a five-year, $37.5 million contract with the St. Louis Rams on Saturday morning, Chester is slated to take Brown's place in the lineup after starting 11 games at right guard last season.

"Jason was a great player and we're going to miss him, I hate to see him go because he's a good personal friend of mine," Chester said Saturday in a telephone interview. "I don't know if I look at it as they're big shoes to fill, but I just want to play as well as he did. Center is something I've done before in the past, and I have no problem doing it because I'm familiar with it, I like it and I know what it involves."

A former second-round draft pick from Oklahoma and a converted tight end, Chester has started 20 games in 43 appearances since his rookie season.

At 6-foot-3, 305 pounds, the mobile lineman is hoping t o bulk up during the offseason to get ready to grapple with massive nose guards like the Cleveland Browns' Shaun "Big Baby" Rogers and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Casey Hampton.

"I think you always want to continue to get bigger and stronger," Chester said. "If you're not improving, you'll fall behind in the NFL. I definitely want to improve my physicality, my weight and my strength and build myself as a smart player and learn more about the game."

Although Chester, 26, has drawn criticism in the past for not having ideal size and for getting muscled at the line of scrimmage, he erased concerns about his play last season by consistently drawing high grades from the coaching staff for his ability to pull while holding his own at the point of attack.

Chester took over for right guard Marshal Yanda when he tore three knee ligaments last year against the Indianapolis Colts. By the end of the season, the chemistry and communication on the line improved, as did Chester's comfort level.

"I got back into a groove of playing a whole bunch," Chester said. "I felt like that was the case as the year went on. I think the chemistry is still going to be there even with Jason gone. With the young guys coming along, too, we're all becoming more comfortable out here."

Off the field, Chester is preparing for life after football.

Chester and his wife purchased land in Oklahoma by a lake as a rental property investment. Next week, he's attending classes at the University of Pennsylvania's prestigious Wharton business school through an NFL leadership program.

"I think it's a great opportunity," he said. "I want to be involved with environmentally-friendly business ventures in the future. That's a transition that has to be done for the sake of humanity. This is a tremendous opportunity to make a difference in the world."

NOTE: Brown expressed regret Saturday that he wasn't able to stay in Baltimore during his introductory press conference in St. Louis.

"To tell you the truth, I was hoping to stay at home with the Ravens," Brown said. "Many players would like to stay with the team that drafted them and would like to finish their careers there. Unfortunately, there's a separation between business and the personal side of football and they had to make a business decision.

"Right now in my career, I have to make a business decision as well and that is to take care of my family to the fullest of its extent. I'm just so glad and fortunate that I'm welcomed into another family here with the Rams." Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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