J. Lewis may get franchise label


It appears as if the Ravens are leaning toward placing the franchise tag on Jamal Lewis, although the team declined to reveal its intent yesterday.

The Ravens have until Thursday's deadline to officially announce whether to use the tag on their all-time leading rusher or let him become an unrestricted free agent.

One indication that the Ravens might be planning to keep Lewis with a one-year, $6 million tender is they have not had any negotiations with backup Chester Taylor, who will become a free agent March 3.

It would be a challenging situation for the Ravens to enter free agency without their top two running backs from last season.

"They told me that they would let me know this week [but] it won't surprise me if they franchised him," said Mitch Frankel, Lewis' agent.

If the Ravens don't franchise Lewis or re-sign Taylor, they would have to pursue an expensive free-agent running back such as Shaun Alexander, Edgerrin James, DeShaun Foster or Ahman Green.

The Ravens traditionally don't get involved in bidding wars for players.

Without Lewis and Taylor, the most experienced tailback on the roster would be injury-prone Musa Smith.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said the team had another meeting yesterday regarding Lewis, who is coming off a career-worst season.

"We're not prepared to reveal our decision," Newsome said.

Newsome, however, said the Ravens have not engaged in any talks with Taylor "at this point."

Taylor, 26, gained 487 yards last season and averaged 4.2 yards a carry. Lewis, 26, managed 906 yards and averaged 3.4 yards an attempt.

Taylor recently told a Ravens teammate that he expected to receive a "big" contract as a free agent. There has been speculation Taylor could end up with the Carolina Panthers.

But his agent, Ken Sarnoff, said Taylor hasn't ruled out coming back to the Ravens.

"Chester loves Baltimore and is proud to be a Baltimore Raven," Sarnoff wrote in an e-mail. "He would most definitely have interest in a potential return to Baltimore."

If the Ravens decide to use the tag, it will be the third time in four years they have done so with a Frankel client. Cornerback Chris McAlister, who is represented by Frankel, received the tag in 2003 and 2004.

Unlike this year, the Ravens previously told Frankel of their intentions long before the deadline.

"They usually know what they're going to do," Frankel said. "I can't answer why they're doing it [this way]."

Another issue involving the Ravens is their quarterback situation.

The Ravens presumably were one of the teams contacted by the Minnesota Vikings last week about their interest in disgruntled quarterback Daunte Culpepper.

"Officially, we've not had any talks about Daunte Culpepper," Newsome said.

It has been rumored that the Ravens might use the franchise tag on Lewis and trade him to the Vikings for Culpepper.

Culpepper, 29, is two seasons removed from a Most Valuable Player-type season, throwing for 4,717 yards and 39 touchdowns.

He struggled last season before tearing three of four ligaments in his right knee Oct. 30.

According to a league source, Culpepper is a month ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback has dropped his weight from 275 to 245 pounds.

The Ravens are looking for an upgrade at quarterback after refusing to name Kyle Boller as their starter for next season.

"We're interested in any matter that would make our football team better," Newsome said.

Asked about the possibility of a trade with Minnesota, he said, "I don't know."

As for the defense, the Ravens are scheduled to have five starters (safety Will Demps, defensive end Tony Weaver, nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu and linebackers Bart Scott and Tommy Polley) headed for free agency.

Although teams can't "officially" make contact with potential free agents on other rosters before March 3, there has been speculation about where Weaver and Kemoeatu might be going.

According to the Akron Beacon Journal, the Cleveland Browns are looking at Kemoeatu to fill the middle of their 3-4 defense. There has also been talk about Weaver drawing interest from the Miami Dolphins. jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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