On the day that veteran quarterbacks such as Kerry Collins and Brian Griese trickled into the free-agent market, the Ravens had their attention fixed on the running back position.
The Ravens have begun contract negotiations with Jamal Lewis and Chester Taylor, their two leading rushers who officially become free agents today.
If the team can't make any progress with either of them, a league source said, the Ravens are prepared to pursue Edgerrin James, the top running back available, sometime next week. James, a vital cog in the Indianapolis Colts' high-powered offense, would likely command a more lucrative deal than Lewis.
Asked about the Ravens' void at running back earlier this week, coach Brian Billick said, "Fortunately, it looks to be a very good market for running backs. There are some guys that will potentially be out there that we should be able to fill that need."
The Ravens' priority appears to be keeping Lewis, the franchise's all-time leading rusher. Although they didn't use the franchise tag on Lewis last month, the Ravens showed they are interested in keeping him by extending an offer yesterday to the 2003 NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
"He's considering it," agent Mitch Frankel said. "We'll take it as a positive and we'll see where it leads."
Frankel said he expects a minimum of two to three teams to go after Lewis (Denver and Arizona have been linked to him) in what could be an unpredictable running back market.
Three teams (Seattle, Carolina and Green Bay) retained their running backs to thin out the free-agent pool, and other teams could opt to fill their need in a running back-deep draft rather than signing a veteran.
"There are two premier backs available, Edgerrin James and Jamal Lewis," Frankel said. "How many teams will be interested? I don't think we know. It's not going to be a function of how good those two players are but a function of what's going on [in the league]."
The Ravens have traded proposals with Taylor's agent Ken Sarnoff. Taylor will make a visit today, although it's not officially known where he's headed. A source with the Minnesota Vikings indicated Taylor is among their top three rated prospects at running back and could meet with him this weekend.
Meanwhile, the quarterback market improved slightly with the Oakland Raiders cutting Collins and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers releasing Griese. The Ravens would allow either Collins or Griese to compete with Kyle Boller for the starting job if signed, but they are not expected to pursue a veteran quarterback immediately.
Notes -- Offensive tackle Orlando Brown said he has been informed by the team that he will be cut Monday. The Ravens will save $900,000 by releasing Brown. "I'm not mad," Brown said. "I don't want to retire, but I might be forced to retire. I love football and I still want to play." ... Linebacker Bart Scott is expected to visit the Cleveland Browns this weekend. His top choices are the Ravens, Cleveland, Green Bay, Minnesota and St. Louis.