The Ravens have agreed in principle on a one-year contract with reserve outside linebacker Cornell Brown.
Brown, one of the team's best run-stoppers, and the Ravens are expected to finalize the deal today. Financial terms were not disclosed. His signing will be the last move in reuniting most of the defense that allowed an NFL record-low 165 points last season.
The Ravens also have re-signed outside linebacker Jamie Sharper and free safety Rod Woodson this off-season, meaning 10 of the 11 starters from last year's defense will return. Strong safety Kim Herring signed with the St. Louis Rams, but Corey Harris started two playoff games last season and is an experienced replacement.
Brown, probably the Ravens' best reserve, will back up Peter Boulware again this season. Brown had 25 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles last season.
Terry Lavenstein, Brown's agent, said the decision was between the Ravens and the Oakland Raiders. "He is showing his loyalty by staying with the Ravens," Lavenstein said.
Oakland was not guaranteeing a starting job nor offering much more money than the Ravens. The Ravens made their offer weeks ago but allowed Brown and Lavenstein time to shop around.
"Cornell wishes to stay with the defense he grew up with," Lavenstein said. "He enjoys playing here under Brian," referring to coach Brian Billick.
"It is the question of a down market. Everyone was around the same [financial] numbers. Where was he going to go?"
That was the question Sharper had to answer in late March before he decided to stay with the Ravens. Early in the free-agency period, it looked as if the Ravens would lose both players. But the market became saturated with veteran linebackers released in cost-cutting moves, making the prospect of staying with the defending Super Bowl champions more appealing for Sharper and Brown.
The Ravens took Brown, 26, in the sixth round of the 1997 draft. He has played in all but one game since and started eight times. Brown could not be reached to comment yesterday.
The Ravens have two free-agent priorities left in fullback Sam Gash, the starter in January's Super Bowl victory, and quarterback Randall Cunningham, who played with Dallas last season. Both have expressed interest in signing with the Ravens, but the team will have to release one or possibly two veterans to sign both Gash and Cunningham.
Ravens owner Art Modell, Billick and vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome were in Chicago yesterday for the NFL's spring meetings. None could be reached to comment.