Ravens take offer to Blake off table


Jeff Blake's free-agent tour has ended his chance of a return trip to the Ravens.

When the 11-year veteran quarterback chose to visit the Chicago Bears yesterday, the Ravens abruptly pulled their contract offer and will now look to free agency and the draft for another quarterback.

If healthy, Chris Redman is likely to have a chance to compete for the starting job.

Blake, 32, took over as the Ravens' starter midway through his first season with the team when Redman went down with a back injury and finished with a 4-6 record. During free agency, the Ravens repeatedly stressed their intentions to bring him back, but Blake said all the team's offers were not market value for a starter.

After the talks stalled this week, Blake scheduled visits to Chicago, Pittsburgh and Arizona. By the Ravens' estimation, those trips ruined any chance of Blake regaining the loyalty of his teammates and fans, leading them to withdraw their three-year offer.

"We're done," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It was my intention when I went down to Florida [last week] to meet with Jeff to communicate with him as directly as I could what my intentions were and what my commitment was under a great deal of duress from the community. My intentions were to give him an opportunity to take leadership of this team, to show this team that his commitment was to come here and be their quarterback.

"Jeff's right is to take himself into free agency. But in doing so, it made it very clear that he was not interested in what I was offering him. When they chose not to take advantage of that, that was the final straw."

Billick had backed Blake's return because of his arm strength and his experience from being in the system for a season. If Blake would have signed, the Ravens likely would have named him as their starter since they are uncertain about Redman's back and didn't have any other free-agent quarterback rated much higher than Blake.

That commitment was not backed by everyone in the front office, coaching staff and locker room, according to sources.

The sources said many in the organization were troubled by Blake's reputation for not taking responsibility for his role in losses and his behavior at the conclusion of the season-ending loss to the Steelers. Moments after he threw a game-ending interception, Blake was seen laughing and hugging Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher.

To try to smooth over matters, Billick flew to West Palm Beach, Fla., eight days ago and emphasized to Blake that he needed to show a certain commitment to the Ravens during free agency to return to the team.

"I'm a little surprised that he did not seize the opportunity," Billick said. "It was my hope that he would recognize the opportunity because I really felt that the first major opportunity for him to show his teammates, to show this city that he was about competing, he was about taking this team back to a championship. He chose not to do it. To that degree, we're done."

Blake's agent, Ralph Cindrich, denied any locker room dissention involving Blake and said teammates have been in contact with his client about remaining with the Ravens.

There was little movement in negotiations (two offers made by the Ravens and two counteroffers delivered by Cindrich), which left the sides at least $1 million apart. The Ravens likely were offering a three-year deal worth between $1.5 million and $2 million, which is considered the lower tier for starting quarterbacks.

When the Ravens learned about Blake's visits, they informed Cindrich that their offer would not last beyond yesterday. Blake decided to pass on what he considered an ultimatum.

"It was a matter of agreeing to disagree," Cindrich said. "He wanted to return to Baltimore and wanted to be rewarded fairly. That was not going to happen in Baltimore in his opinion.

"Was I surprised? No. But I think Jeff had difficulty with how it was presented."

Without Blake, Redman has a legitimate shot at regaining his starting job if he can fully recover from back surgery. The only other quarterback on the roster is Anthony Wright, their third stringer from last season.

The Ravens also will likely pursue former Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart and draft a quarterback in the first three rounds. Stewart, who was replaced in Pittsburgh by Tommy Maddox, is a year removed from a Pro Bowl season.

"Chris Redman is the quarterback, but we will certainly entertain and look at the other options, which obviously includes Kordell Stewart," Billick said. "We're not going to rush into anything. I'm very comfortable with Chris Redman. I don't lack confidence in him. The back is my major concern."

The options dwindled for Blake this week when Denver grabbed Jake Plummer and Carolina signed Jake Delhomme, who also ranked high on the Ravens' list of free agents. Despite drawing interest from New Orleans and Miami, Blake would probably have the best shot at being a starter in Chicago or Arizona.

"The fact of the matter is he's going to have a job," Cindrich said.

In other Ravens free-agency news, the team addressed special teams yesterday by signing fullback Harold Morrow to a three-year contract and welcoming back return specialist Jermaine Lewis for a visit. Terms of Morrow's deal were undisclosed.

Known for his bruising style on coverage teams, Morrow, a Minnesota Viking last season, was one of the top special teams players graded by the Ravens' scouts. His addition, however, doesn't preclude the Ravens re-signing veteran fullback Sam Gash.

"He will be our dominant special teams player," Billick said.

Lewis, who played for the Ravens from 1996 to 2001, is scheduled to visit the Washington Redskins today and meet with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday. He has already traveled to see Miami and Cincinnati.

"All things being equal, this is home," said Lewis, who still owns a home in Boring. "Everywhere I go, people are saying, 'Come on back, we miss you.' I definitely feel the love here."

NOTES: The Ravens have no scheduled visits today. ... The agent for former Ravens defensive tackle Sam Adams has had talks with the team, but there have been no offers discussed.

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