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Woodson back in fold with Ravens


While the move was regarded a formality, it officially re-strengthened the Ravens' best unit.

According to a league source, the Ravens reached an agreement in principle with free safety Rod Woodson yesterday, finalizing what had been expected for weeks.

It's a five-year contract that likely has options attached after the first two seasons. The amount of the agreement was not disclosed.

By bringing the nine-time Pro Bowl performer back into the fold, the Super Bowl champions will defend their title with only one starter lost from their highly decorated defense. The only off-season loss suffered by the defense was strong safety Kim Herring, who signed with the St. Louis Rams.

Neither Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel, nor coach Brian Billick was available to comment yesterday, and Woodson did not return phone messages. The team is expected make an announcement of Woodson's deal early next week.

As the Ravens added Woodson, they also suffered a minor yet expected hit to their defensive backfield depth when nickel back Robert Bailey reportedly agreed to terms with the Detroit Lions on Thursday. Bailey, who played with the Lions for three seasons before his only year with the Ravens, will sign a one-year contract worth the veteran minimum $477,000.

The Ravens already had assigned Bailey's primary job of defending the slot receiver on passing downs to eight-year veteran James Trapp.

Bailey was released by the Ravens on March 13 to fit free-agent right tackle Leon Searcy under the salary cap. He is only the fifth member of last season's championship team to sign elsewhere this off-season, joining Herring, center Jeff Mitchell (Panthers), backup quarterback Tony Banks (Cowboys) and reserve defensive end Keith Washington (Broncos).

The Ravens, though, never truly intended to let Woodson skate away like Bailey.

Woodson, 36, became a free agent March 1 when the team declined to pick up an option on his contract. He was scheduled to make $3 million this season, and had a cap number of $5 million. His return was guaranteed by Newsome for the past two months and likely came at a considerable cap discount to the Ravens.

The 14-year veteran won his first Super Bowl ring last season as the senior member of a record-setting defense.

Last season, Woodson ranked fifth on the team with 82 tackles to go along with four interceptions, 10 passes broken up and four fumble recoveries. It was his second season since switching from cornerback to safety and he earned his second straight Pro Bowl appearance with the Ravens. In the playoffs, he was the Ravens' second-leading tackler with 23 stops.

NOTE: The Chicago Bears have had veiled contact with league officials about the availability of Ravens director of college scouting Phil Savage and pro personnel director James Harris. The Bears are in the process of forming a short list of candidates for their newly created general manager position.

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