The Ravens' top priority in the off-season is landing a highly skilled offensive player, but with their chances of signing running backs Stephen Davis, Barry Sanders or Corey Dillon unlikely, the team has started talks with the Seattle Seahawks about trading for disgruntled receiver Joey Galloway.
Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, said yesterday he had a brief talk with Seattle officials about the availability of Galloway, who was designated the franchise player by the Seahawks yesterday. The Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins also have interest in Galloway, 28, who is one of the NFL's fastest players.
The Redskins have more bargaining power than both the Cowboys and the Ravens because they have three first-round picks in the draft -- the second, 12th and 24th. The Ravens have two first-round picks -- No. 5 and either No. 14 or No. 15, pending a coin flip with the Green Bay Packers, who also had an 8-8 record in 1999.
Galloway would command top dollar from the Ravens. On July 7, he turned down a seven-year, $35 million offer from Seattle that included a $7 million signing bonus. He had only 22 catches for 335 yards and one touchdown last season. He hasn't been one of Seattle coach Mike Holmgren's favorite players despite having more than 1,000 yards receiving in three of the previous four years, but the Seahawks want something in return for what they have invested.
The Ravens also had interest in Oakland receiver Tim Brown, but he re-signed with the Raiders yesterday.
"A player like Joey Galloway isn't going to just say goodbye and walk out the door," Holmgren said. "It's just not going to happen. Within the structure of the NFL rules, I'll do what I have to do."
The Ravens were going to look at some running backs, but the pool may not be as talented as their running tandem of Errict Rhett and Priest Holmes.
The playing status of Sanders in Detroit has yet to be determined, while the Redskins labeled Davis their franchise player yesterday. There is speculation the Cincinnati Bengals might want to trade Dillon, a restricted free agent, and the Ravens will talk if the Bengals will listen.
But after the three top running backs, and with apologies to James Stewart, the Jacksonville Jaguars' unrestricted free-agent running back, there isn't much on the open market.
"The coaches feel like we can win with these two guys [Rhett and Holmes] and the potential of Jay Graham. Where does that rank on the priority scale?" asked Ravens team president David Modell about finding a running back in free agency. "I don't think it ranks as one."
Said Ravens coach Brian Billick: "With the upper division guys pretty much out of the picture, we're comfortable with our existing running backs. With the possibility of the top runners getting transition or franchise tags, there is really no interest for us to go down the free-agency avenue."
Holmes, a restricted free agent, had 506 yards on 89 carries. Rhett, who had 852 on 236 carries last season despite missing most of the second half with bruised ribs, is an unrestricted free agent. He is on the market with similar-caliber players like Arizona's Adrian Murrell, Detroit's Greg Hill and Minnesota's Leroy Hoard.
The Ravens will concentrate on the draft, which will produce running backs like Wisconsin's Ron Dayne, Tennessee's Jamal Lewis, Virginia's Thomas Jones, Alabama's Sean Alexander and Arizona State's J.R. Redmond. Neither Holmes nor Rhett were effective inside the red zone last season.
Despite being interested in Galloway, the Ravens are still in the hunt for a tight end such as Ben Coates, released by the Patriots on Wednesday. Other tight ends the Ravens might pursue are Denver's Shannon Sharpe and Troy Drayton, who was released by Miami yesterday.
Modell said the team is suffering from growing pains and is more than one player away from being a Super Bowl contender. Despite interest in some big-name players, Modell said he will be cautious in spending. The Ravens are at least $5 million under the $62.2 million salary cap.
"We're still growing," Modell said. "We're at the point as an organization where we need to win two or three more games. We've become legitimately competitive. Now we need to become a legitimate playoff contender. It's a huge step to go from legitimately competitive to Super Bowl-aspirant, regardless of what happened with St. Louis. History will show you that over the course of time, that growing is the best way to get there because chances are you'll stay there."
The Ravens don't want to be like the Atlanta Falcons, who went from Super Bowl participant in 1998 to one of the worst teams in 1999. But the Ravens' organization has never been to a Super Bowl.
"You can burst onto the scene and then burst," Modell said. "I don't think we're in the position where we can say this one guy is going to get us over the top. I still think it's going to take a number of guys to become a legitimate playoff contender. Maybe at that point, you can step up and take a big swing at that first signing. I'm not sure that is the wise thing to do, generally speaking."
The Ravens spent yesterday trying to re-sign some of their own free agents, with the two most pressing being quarterback Tony Banks and defensive end Rob Burnett. Several agents representing the team's other 17 free agents felt the Ravens gave them low offers, but the team is aware that other teams aren't going to be jumping at players like quarterback Stoney Case, guard/tackle Everett Lindsay, safety Corey Harris and offensive tackle James Harris.
The Ravens have not decided on a definite plan on middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who is still facing murder charges in Atlanta after two fatal stabbings the morning after the Super Bowl.