The Ravens have a strong interest in Arizona Cardinals receiver David Boston and would likely be one of the front-runners in attempting to sign him if he becomes a free agent, league sources said.
Arizona did not place the franchise tag on Boston on Thursday, the last day teams could so. The Cardinals reportedly did not want to guarantee $5 million - the average salary of the league's top five receivers - to Boston next season as the franchise player.
By not doing so, Boston, who has played four years in Arizona, stands to become an unrestricted free agent if he and the team do not agree to a contract by Friday. Another team must give up two first-round draft picks to sign a franchise player, but if Boston becomes an unrestricted free agent, a team could sign him without compensation.
Boston's agent, Mitch Frankel, and the Cardinals are working on a multi-year deal at the NFL combine in Indianapolis that, according to Arizona officials, would make Boston one of the highest paid receivers in the league. Boston's first choice would be to remain with the team that made him the eighth overall pick in the 1999 draft.
But after Boston's recent legal troubles and run of injuries, the Cardinals are not likely to offer him a big signing bonus, usually the only part of a player's contract that is guaranteed. Boston, 24, pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence stemming from an incident in March. Boston also reportedly tested positive for marijuana and cocaine, according to Phoenix police. He could face a possible fine or suspension by the league.
The troubles came as a surprise to the Ravens, who did a thorough background check on Boston after his last season at Ohio State and came away impressed. Had cornerback Chris McAlister, whom the team selected with the 10th overall pick in the 1999 draft, been selected by Arizona instead of Boston, the Ravens said they would have selected Boston with their pick.
Despite Boston's coming off season-ending surgery in November and the legal issues, the Ravens remain intrigued. Boston tore the patellar tendon in his right knee after playing in eight games and finished last season with 32 catches for 512 yards. He is, however, expected to make a full recovery.
Ravens officials cannot comment on their interest in Boston until he becomes a free agent, but sources say his speed and size (6 feet 2, 236 pounds) would be a good fit in coach Brian Billick's system, and he surely would become the No. 1 receiver.
With the Buffalo Bills applying the franchise tag to Peerless Price, Boston is the best potential free-agent receiver. Boston led the NFL with 1,598 receiving yards in 2001 and had eight touchdowns on 98 catches. He caught 71 passes for 1,156 yards and seven touchdowns the previous year.
Meanwhile, the Ravens also will look at former kick return specialist Jermaine Lewis, who was released by the Houston Texans this week.
"We'd love to have Jermaine back, particularly being local [from the Univeristy of Maryland] and a big part of what we did the championship year," Billick said.
NOTE: Cornerback James Trapp and three others will be honored by WBFF-TV and WNUV-TV as "Champions of Courage" for Black History Month.