The Ravens accomplished three of four major objectives yesterday by signing Seattle Seahawks free-agent defensive tackle Sam Adams, and then filling major offensive needs by selecting Tennessee running back Jamal Lewis and Florida receiver Travis Taylor with two picks inside the top 10 of the NFL draft.
Ideally, the Ravens wanted to sign Adams early yesterday morning and then trade down from the No. 5 overall position and get another pick inside the top 15 and a second-round selection. But when only the Chicago Bears contacted the Ravens before the noon draft and just Green Bay called during the Ravens' 15 minutes on the clock, the club opted to select Lewis.
Five selections later, the Ravens chose Taylor. The Ravens have the potential to go from one of the worst offenses in the league a year ago, ranked No. 24 averaging 298.6 yards per game, to one that could complement the No. 2 ranked defense and have a chance at the playoffs.
"When we started the off-season, we wanted to improve the skill positions on offense," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel. "We have done that and the players we selected have played in front of big crowds and for national championships. We are now in position to win games 10-6 instead of losing them 6-10. We've got to be in position to make people afraid of our offense and we've addressed that today."
Adams signed a four-year deal worth $20 million for salary cap concerns, but the contract is backloaded ($15.2 million in the last two years). Adams' deal was to set in motion possible discussions for the Ravens to move out of the No. 5 position and into the teens.
Chicago offered first-, third- and fourth-round picks and Green Bay offered first-, second- and fourth-round selections. The Ravens said no thanks. Newsome said he wasn't surprised by the lack of offers. The Ravens were one of many teams who didn't think there was a player in the draft worth the No. 5 price tag or the $8.8 million signing bonus New Orleans running back Ricky Williams received as the fifth pick last year.
Earlier in the week, the Ravens had made a trade with Denver, moving up from No. 15 to No. 10 but losing a second-round pick.
"Our board kind of slacked off after 15 picks," said Newsome, who has a solid working relationship with the agents for both players, Mitch Frankel (Lewis) and Steve Weinberg (Taylor). "So the threshold was not going beyond 15. We felt we needed to be inside of 15 to get the kind of players we felt could contribute right away."
Lewis was a mild surprise, but Newsome had been impressed with him during the regular season. All the Ravens scouts also took a look at Lewis and came back with favorable reports. The Ravens like Lewis, 5 feet 11 and 228 pounds, because of his all-around ability.
He rushed for 816 yards on 182 carries last season and has the ability to run around players in the middle of the field, or through them in the red zone. As a receiver, he may have the best hands of any running back in college football. His best time in the 40 is 4.34.
The two top teams in the AFC Central have solid, all-around running backs. Jacksonville has Fred Taylor and the Titans use Eddie George. Cincinnati has Corey Dillon, who remained with the Bengals despite rampant trade rumors generated by agent Marvin Demoff the past two weeks.
"I was prepared for anything," Lewis said about his No. 5 selection. "Basically, I know my role. I'm going to go in ready to play on offense, learn the plays, learn the offense and get the ball rolling. I think I can contribute once I get a feel for the game and learn the speed of the game. One of my strengths is being able to block, run and catch the ball. I'm a complete back, which is why the Ravens drafted me at No. 5."
Despite a solid season last year, though, Lewis has his skeptics. There are concerns about a torn ligament on the outside of his right knee he suffered in 1998 after four games. Before then, Lewis had rushed for 497 yards on 73 carries and three touchdowns.
The Ravens aren't concerned. Lewis has been examined twice by team trainer Bill Tessendorf and once by team physicians Claude T. Moorman and Andrew Tucker. Tessendorf said any knee injury is basically a two-year injury and this season will be Lewis' second year.
"We have seen him at the combine and also when he came here for a visit," said Tessendorf. "He played a full year and from my understanding there was no problem, no swelling. The best example of a player who comes back from a knee injury is Rob Burnett [Ravens defensive end]. He came back the first year and was able to play, but he wasn't the same player. He played this year and was outstanding because he had all the strength back in his leg.
"It's a little different with a running back because they have to juke and cut," said Tessendorf. "A certain amount of confidence has to develop. We'll get him in here and set him up with the strength and conditioning coach. He needs to run like hell to show people he was worthy of the pick."
The Ravens had to sweat a little for Taylor. He was generally considered one of the three best receivers in the draft along with Peter Warrick and Plaxico Burress. After the Ravens took Lewis, their concern was the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 6 and the Bears at No. 9.
The Ravens breathed a sigh of relief when the Eagles chose defensive tackle Corey Simon and the Bears took linebacker Brian Urlacher. If either had picked Taylor, the Ravens were prepared to select Miami tight end Bubba Franks at No. 10. The Ravens would have gone with a two tight end look with Franks and newly acquired free agent Shannon Sharpe.
"Most definitely, I think I can play in Baltimore," said Taylor. "[Florida coach Steve Spurrier] had a great game plan every week. He used the pro style system in college. I can play both inside and outside. In our offense, you had to go out and learn every position."
Taylor, 6 feet and 198 pounds, had 34 receptions for 463 yards and six touchdowns. He has great leaping ability and speed, running the 40 in 4.46. He gives the Ravens a receiver who isn't afraid to go across the middle and his acrobatic ability makes him a threat inside the red zone.
"Lewis comes out of a multiple offense," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "It's not like he was a guy who sat in the I, 6 to 12 yards back, and was not allowed to do anything else. He understands the nuances of pass protection. Certainly, Travis Taylor, in Steve Spurrier's offense, has been exposed to a few concepts. So he will probably come in here, open the playbook and say: Are you kidding me? Both will come in and play right away. I'm very optimistic about them being able to absorb things right away."
That would be fine with owner Art Modell. "I expect to be a playoff team," said Modell. "Anything less would be a disappointment."
Billick said: "When you have a need at tight end, running back and receiver, practically speaking, you can do one out of three. If you can do two out of three, you're ahead of the curve. But three out of three, nah, that doesn't happen at all.
"That's where my excitement comes in. They are young, but in positions where the effects of youth can be minimized."