Ravens withdraw offer to Jeff Blake

OWINGS MILLS — The Baltimore Ravens' quest for continuity at quarterback ended abruptly on Thursday when the team withdrew its contract offer to Jeff Blake. When Blake decided to seek a free agent deal with other NFL teams because he felt the Ravens weren't dangling enough money, the consequence was the Ravens stopping a negotiation that had reached an impasse. Blake met with the Chicago Bears on Thursday. This effectively ends Blake's one-year tenure in Baltimore.

Now, the Ravens will con-sider other options that might include former Pittsburgh Steelers starter Kordell Stewart as well as selecting a college quarterback within the first three rounds of the NFL draft in April.

"There was no ultimatum," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "My intentions were to give him an opportunity to take leadership of this team, to show this team that his commitment was to come here and be their quarterback. "Jeff's right is to take himself into free agency, but in doing so, it made it very clear that he was not interested in what I was offering him, by way of leadership of this team. So, it's prudent for us to move on and we will."

Since Billick became coach in 1999, the Ravens have started eight different quar-terbacks, including at least two each season. He has gone from Scott Mitchell to Stoney Case to Tony Banks to Trent Dilfer to Elvis Grbac, two starts with Randall Cunningham to Redman and Blake.

Although Baltimore repeat-edly said Blake was a major priority and Billick visited him in Florida last week to reaffirm that he wanted to retain him as a starter, Blake's agent emphasized that Baltimore's actions didn't meet its words. Blake's agent Ralph Cindrich said Baltimore was offering a three-year contract that averaged between $1.5 and $2 million annually.

 He said the Ravens wouldn't meet him halfway on incentive clauses that would have raised the potential value of the first year contract into the neighborhood of $5 million. Blake wanted a higher signing bonus than the $1 million the Ravens were offering, said Cindrich, who added that the Ravens' withdrawal wasn't a surprise.

"It wasn't a starter's contract, and Jeff can make backup money elsewhere," Cindrich said. "Jeff's done a lot in this league and the Ravens' offer didn't reflect that. Jeff's not going to lack for job opportunities.

"Jeff wasn't going to compromise his values and sell himself short even though the starting job was in Baltimore. We agree to disagree with the Ravens about his value."

Blake was seeking a reward after playing last season for the veteran minimum, so he opted to visit the Bears and schedule subsequent trips to Pittsburgh on Sunday and to Arizona next week. He compiled a 4-6 record as a starter in relief of an injured Chris Redman last season.

Last season, Blake passed for 2,084 yards, 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while completing 55.9 percent of his passes for a quarterback rating of 77.3.

Redman's season ended when a herniated disc in his back flared up after he com-piled a 3-3 record. He underwent successful back surgery this winter.

Redman passed for 1,034 yards, seven touch-downs and three interceptions while completing 53.3 percent of his passes for a 76.1 quar-terback rating. This week, Redman said he has resumed throwing and anticipates participating in all off-season camps.

"My back feels better now than it ever has since I hurt it in college," Redman said. "I'm looking forward to getting back out there."

Now, Blake will have to seek employment elsewhere, and the Ravens will look at what Billick termed the usual suspects.

Other free agents with starting experience include Shaun King and Charlie Batch. The Minnesota Vikings have been unsuccessfully shopping Todd Bouman as trade bait.

"I'm a little surprised that he didn't seize the opportunity," Billick said of Blake. "We'll consider everybody, both now and later on. We'll address it via free agency and the draft, in all likelihood."

NOTES: The Ravens have reached a three-year contract agreement with former Vikings fullback and special teams ace Harold Morrow. Morrow routinely led the Vikings in special teams tackles.

"When it's all said and done, he will be one of the biggest signings we've had this year," Billick said. "He's a good young special teams guy, very much like a Bennie Thompson."

Former Ravens All-Pro re-turn specialist Jermaine Lewis, who was released by the Houston Texans one year after Baltimore allocated him in the expansion draft due to salary cap issues, visited the Ravens on Thursday.

"We would love to have him back," Billick said.

Lewis said he plans to visit the Washington Redskins today and the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday before making a final decision next week about where he'll play. Lewis also visited the Cincinnati Bengals earlier this week.

"It definitely brings back old memories being around the organization," said Lewis, the former Maryland standout who maintains a residence in Boring. "I've just been seeing what everyone has to offer."

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