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Leftwich intriguing if he'd be No. 3 QB

The Baltimore Sun

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome was sitting at his desk yesterday preparing for Monday's season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, and he kind of chuckled when asked about his interest in former Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich.

Newsome wasn't exactly buzzing about Leftwich, either an indication that he didn't have much of a chance of signing him, or that he just didn't care.

Later in the day, The Sun learned that the Ravens did have contact with Leftwich's agent.

In this case, Newsome should stay with his motto: "Right player, right price." Translation: Leftwich had better come cheap.

The Ravens should bring Leftwich aboard only as the No. 3 quarterback behind starter Steve McNair and backup Kyle Boller. Leftwich is definitely better, and certainly more experienced, than current No. 3 quarterback Troy Smith, the Heisman Trophy-winning rookie out of Ohio State.

But Leftwich is also damaged goods and played poorly in the preseason. How poorly? On 10 offensive series against first-string defenses, the Jaguars' Leftwich-directed offense punted seven times, failed twice on fourth-down conversions and scored one touchdown. He was 19-for-38 for 226 yards.

According to published reports, seven teams have an interest in Leftwich, but that seems too high. Leftwich can't be that much in demand with his career numbers and medical record.

But he might want to listen to Newsome, because the Ravens GM could put together an attractive offer, minus the high salary in 2007.

If Leftwich came to Baltimore as the No. 3 quarterback, he could spend a year as an understudy learning from McNair. He basically could have a year off to allow more time for his injured ankle to heal, yet at the same time be close to his hometown of Washington.

McNair will be 35 in February. He still has some strength in his arm, and some life in his legs, but his career is on the down side. Boller is in the final year of his contract and has been given numerous opportunities to take over this team. But barring anything short of a miracle season, the Ravens probably won't re-sign him. The door might be opened for Leftwich to become the eventual starter.

Under those circumstances, Leftwich and the Ravens should reach a deal, one that can be beneficial for both parties. But if Leftwich is looking for a No. 1 or 2 job immediately, and is demanding a salary of about $1.7 million, then Newsome should say no.

Leftwich, 27, has no leverage with the Ravens. In Jacksonville, he was a starter for four seasons, but he was hampered by knee and ankle injuries. He has yet to play a full season in his pro career and has missed a combined 15 games the past two seasons.

According to published reports, his recurring ankle injury has not fully healed since his last season at Marshall. Around the NFL, the word is that you blitz Leftwich often because he is a stationary target.

Entering the preseason, Leftwich was still the starter, but he was outplayed by David Garrard, who completed 36 of 47 passes for 456 yards and a touchdown. On Friday, Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio announced that Garrard, in his sixth season, was the starter, and the next day the team released Leftwich.

There are some who think Del Rio wanted to make this move years ago but was handcuffed by James Harris, the Jaguars' vice president of player personnel, who was a big fan of Leftwich's. But there is speculation that Harris has fallen out of favor with Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver, and that Harris and Del Rio won't be far behind Leftwich if the Jaguars don't win big this season.

Leftwich and Del Rio had problems because Leftwich openly questioned the coach's decisions, and Del Rio reportedly said Leftwich had misled him about health concerns.

Leftwich, though, is still young, and can salvage a career that hasn't come close to expectations. He was the No. 7 overall pick by Jacksonville in the 2003 draft, yet has completed only 58.7 percent of his passes for 9,042 yards and 51 touchdowns with 36 interceptions during his career. His career quarterback rating is 80.5.

Leftwich might still crave being in the No. 2 position, where he is one hit away from the starting spot and possibly another lucrative contract. But his ego may not be that big. Leftwich believes he is a better quarterback than he really is, but most say he is a reasonable guy.

Under certain circumstances, he could have a good situation in Baltimore, and he certainly could be a quarterback who steps in and wins a couple of games if needed. It also would give Rick Neuheisel, a pretty good quarterbacks coach, a chance to improve Leftwich's sloppy mechanics and poor throwing motion.

But if he wants more, Newsome should just let him go. In his position and at this time in his career, Leftwich can't make demands, at least not of the Ravens.

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