While the Ravens are uncertain about their chances to lock up cornerback Chris McAlister to a long-term deal by today's deadline, they patched up their void at right tackle and severed all ties with free-agent quarterback Kordell Stewart.
The Ravens shored up the right side of their line by closing in on an agreement in principle with Orlando Brown last night and signing Ethan Brooks to a two-year contract. But the team's quarterback search will continue as Stewart, who drew fleeting interest from the Ravens, agreed to a two-year deal with the Chicago Bears.
Bringing back Brown, who played for the Ravens from 1996 to 1998, came at more of a cost to him than the Ravens. Brown is expected to sign a one-year deal worth $1 million, which was $1.5 million less than what the Minnesota Vikings were offering. By taking less money, he will be able to stay closer to his Hunt Valley home and three children, who live in the area.
Brown, 32, has been out of football for the past three seasons after a weighted penalty flag struck him in the right eye while he was with the Cleveland Browns. The one-year deal allows him to re-establish himself again and then become a free agent next year.
"If we do indeed get this done, I'm excited about Orlando because Orlando is excited," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He's been out of this game and truly loves playing. He wants to re-assert himself back and is coming back with a certain furor."
Nicknamed "Zeus," the 6-foot-7, 350-pound Brown is the prototype power blocker who could end the Ravens' revolving door at right tackle. Since Brown left, there have been nine right tackles - Harry Swayne, Everett Lindsay, Spencer Folau, Leon Searcy, Sammy Williams, Erik Williams, Kipp Vickers, Edwin Mulitalo and Brooks - in the past four seasons.
The Ravens were impressed by Brown's improved athleticism during last week's workout, when they also made him undergo an eye exam. Brown said during the visit that he will probably wear a dark visor on his helmet to help his vision.
Although Brown is the favorite to take over the starting job, Billick did not rule out Brooks, 30, who was signed during last year's training camp and started 13 games. But Brooks' versatility to play either the left or right side might make him a better fit as a backup.
"It's a great situation and it gives us good competition at right tackle," Billick said. "When we originally brought Ethan in, we thought he'd be a good swing tackle."
Negotiations resumed yesterday with McAlister's agent, but team officials didn't sound optimistic about reaching a long-term deal by today's 4 p.m. deadline. The Ravens refuse to negotiate after today and before July 15 because, under league rules, they would lose the right to assign the franchise tag to any player for the entire length of McAlister's new deal.
The Ravens kept McAlister from becoming an unrestricted free agent last month by designating him as their franchise player. If the sides can't agree on a new deal before the season, McAlister would sign a one-year contract worth $5.9 million (franchise players receive the average salary of the top five paid at their positions.)
"It's typical negotiations," Billick said. "If something's going to get done, we know it's going to be 11th hour. What's important to recognize is that there are a couple of windows here. All this means is that if this doesn't get done - and I have no way of knowing whether it will or it won't - that after the deadline in mid-July, we can start the process up again."
NOTES: When asked about quarterback Jeff Blake signing with the Arizona Cardinals, Billick said, "Arizona is an excellent team for Jeff." ... The Ravens have an offer on the table for return specialist Jermaine Lewis, who was cut by the Houston Texans. Lewis, though, could be headed for Washington after the Redskins failed to land New York Jets returner Chad Morton. ... Linebacker Ray Lewis is shooting ads in Los Angeles for NFL Equipment along with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez and New York Giants running back Tiki Barber. The ads will begin appearing in magazines in May.