Ravens start free agency

OWINGS MILLS -- As free agency launched early this morning, the Baltimore Ravens are expected to be anything but dormant. Although the Ravens' freedom is somewhat limited due to the new NFL rules governing teams with Final Eight status, they are expected to explore several options to upgrade their roster.

That includes strong interest from the Ravens in steady Houston Texans wide receiver Kevin Walter and San Diego Chargers massive blocking tight end Brandon Manumaleuna.

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Nate Burleson was a player of secondary interest for Baltimore who signed a $25 million deal with the Detroit Lions shortly after midnight.

The Ravens are also expected to look into the merits and cost of higher-profile players like Denver Broncos restricted free agent wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who was only given a first-round tender, as well as Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin through a potential trade scenario.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome didn't necessarily forecast heavy action from his team at the stroke of midnight, but he didn't rule it out completely.

And Newsome emphasized the Ravens aren't expecting major changes from how free agency is going to unfold in the uncharted territory of an uncapped year.

"I think we've still got the same type of anticipation that we would have before any free agent period," Newsome told the Times. "We'll see after the first week what the landscape is like. We're bound by the Final Eight plan, we're limited in what we can do. If there's an opportunity for us to improve our football team, and I believe that there is, then I think we can still do it."

The Ravens are expected to face competition for Walter from several teams, including the Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New England Patriots and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Walter has the requisite size at 6-foot-3, 218 pounds with sound hands and blocking ability.

He's not regarded as an ideal featured wideout since he doesn't have outstanding speed, but he's able to get open and is reliable and has gotten deep on occasion while playing opposite Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson.

Walter could upgrade the Ravens' receiving corps with Baltimore still looking for more reinforcements via the draft or free agency. Manumaleuna provides a big blocking presence at 6-foot-2, 295 pounds. The former St. Louis Rams fourth-round pick has played for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron before and the coaching staff has a high opinion of him.

The Chicago Bears are interested, too, and are hosting Manumaleuna for a visit today at Halas Hall.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Bryant isn't a leading candidate, but he is under consideration.

What could complicate pursuing him is the fact that his agent, Lamont Smith, also represents Ravens free agent wide receiver Derrick Mason. The Ravens could also use some help at cornerback, and New England Patriots unrestricted free agent Leigh Bodden make sense as well as Carolina Panthers restricted free agent Richard Marshall since he only got the second-round tender. The Ravens aren't expected to pursue Bodden, who has drawn interest from the Pittsburgh Steelers and other teams.

Because of the advent of no salary cap due to the NFL owners opting out of the collective bargaining agreement, the Ravens are limited in the scope of what they can do in free agency.

They can sign one unrestricted free agent with a first-year salary of $5.8 million or more as well as the same number of Ravens unrestricted free agents that sign with other teams. They can also sign any unrestricted free agents for less than $3.861 million in the first year of the contract while still following the 30-percent increase rule.

Previously, these figures were set at $5.5 million and $3.7 million, respectively.

The restricted free agent market is expected to be interesting since the Broncos didn't give Marshall the high tender. However, his anticipated contract demands, the expense of giving up a first-round draft pick heading into a strong draft and his history of domestic violence problems are major obstacles toward putting in a bid. He's rumored to be on the Seattle Seahawks' radar.

The San Diego Chargers' talented wide receiver tandem of Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd would be attractive normally, but both were given the maximum tender of first-round and third-round picks and that could preclude going after them. "I don't know what other teams are thinking," Newsome said. "We feel like if there's an opportunity to get a player of value and, if it means a pick, we'll do it."

The Ravens aren't on the verge of brokering any deals with any of their own unrestricted free agents, including wide receivers Mason and Kelley Washington and defensive linemen Dwan Edwards and Justin Bannan.

Edwards and Bannan are visiting the Denver Broncos today.

"We are engaged in conversations with the agents of all of our pending unrestricted free agents," Newsome said.

The Ravens plan to monitor what interest their free agents are garnering and potentially compete if they're getting offers.

It's believed that Mason is the only free agent they've exchanged parameters with. Mason is rumored to be drawing interest from the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins.

Newsome expressed confident in the preparations the Ravens have made for free agency, praising director of pro personnel Vince Newsome, assistant director of pro personnel Chad Alexander and the coaching staff.

"It's going really good," Newsome said. "We're ready to go."

NOTES: Wide receiver Mark Clayton got the second-round restricted tender, as did offensive guard Marshal Yanda. Outside linebacker Antwan Barnes (fourth round) got the low tender. ... The Ravens didn't tender offensive tackle Adam Terry or tight end Edgar Jones, but could possibly sign them to veteran minimum deals. ... The Ravens assigned a $1.1 million low tender to restricted free agent backup quarterback Troy Smith, a decision that could potentially draw the interest of other teams. The former Heisman Trophy winner would only cost a fifth-round draft pick if he was signed to an offer sheet and the Ravens opted not to match. … Wide receiver Demetrius Williams also got the low tender. He's a former fourth-round pick.


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