Brown nears the exit

The Baltimore Sun

Jason Brown seems resigned to leaving the Ravens when free agency begins today.

Talks between Brown and the Ravens have reached a stalemate because the team wants to pay him as a center while the versatile offensive lineman is looking to get paid as a guard. The difference could be as much as $2 million per season.

Brown, 25, started at center last season after two seasons at left guard.

"Looking at things that have happened in the past with the Ravens, they have been willing to pay and negotiate more for their defensive players," Brown said yesterday. "That's why Baltimore always has a defensive team. If they don't change their course, they may always be a defensive team. It's tough."

The Washington Redskins are believed to be the front-runners for Brown and could have signed him as soon as free agency started last night at midnight. The Miami Dolphins are also expected to make a run at Brown.

A fourth-round draft pick by the Ravens in 2005, Brown is considered the top offensive lineman available in this free-agent class.

Asked whether he would be on the free-agent market for long, he quickly responded, "Probably not."

Over the years, the Ravens have tried to improve their offense. They signed wide receiver Derrick Mason in free agency, extended the contracts of offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden (who has since retired) and tight end Todd Heap, and traded for running back Willis McGahee.

But it appears the Ravens aren't willing to match what Brown believes he can make in free agency.

General manager Ozzie Newsome acknowledged last weekend some of the team's free agents could receive lucrative offers from other teams.

"Over the past few years, we have lost players because they had the opportunity to help their families by making a lot more money," Newsome said. "I'm happy for them to do it. I'll see them four, five years from now, and we can still be friends."

To fill the loss of Brown, the Ravens could use Chris Chester at center.

But Brown was pivotal for the Ravens last season because of his 320-pound frame, which allowed him to match up against nose tackles. Chester weighs about 15 pounds less.

Brown said the Ravens could have avoided this situation long ago.

"They could have signed me last spring or before the season and could have paid me two-thirds as much as what I'm valued at right now," he said. "They could have gotten this completely out of the way. As far as the hesitation or procrastination of such, I really don't know."

There's a wide gap in how centers and guards are compensated in free agency.

The highest-paid center is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Jeff Faine, whose contract averages $6.25 million per season. The highest-paid guard is the New York Jets' Alan Faneca, whose contract averages $8 million a season.

"Although I have done whatever the Ravens have asked of me and although right now they don't seem like they're willing to work with me, other teams do recognize the value and the versatility of what I can do," Brown said. "Whatever happens, I can't look at it as personal. It's all business."

On Monday, the agent for Brown and linebacker Bart Scott said one of his players could sign before free agency starts. As of yesterday afternoon, it was believed that the Ravens and Scott in their contract talks were only $400,000 to $700,000 apart.

Besides Brown and Scott, the Ravens' other free agents are: linebacker Ray Lewis; kicker Matt Stover; cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Corey Ivy; safety Jim Leonhard; fullback Lorenzo Neal; quarterbacks Kyle Boller and Todd Bouman; wide receiver Terrance Copper; offensive tackle Chad Slaughter; and tight end Daniel Wilcox. Boller is scheduled to visit the Dallas Cowboys, where he could become Tony Romo's backup.

Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston contributed to this article.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS

A look at the decisions facing the Ravens with their own major free agents:

RAY LEWIS, STARTING LINEBACKER

Pros: Ravens can't replace his leadership. Lewis has even more value as a teacher now that defensive coordinator Rex Ryan left to become the New York Jets' head coach.

Cons: Lewis will be 34 when the regular season starts. It's uncertain how he'll play after he receives his last big contract.

BART SCOTT, STARTING LINEBACKER

Pros: At 29 when the season begins, Scott still has an upside. His physical play inside was a major reason teams couldn't run on the Ravens.

Cons: Whether it was a change in roles or responsibilities, he didn't seem to single-handedly change games. In the past two seasons, he had 2 1/2 sacks and no interceptions.

JASON BROWN, STARTING CENTER

Pros: A vocal leader on the offensive line, Brown has the bulk to negate some of the best nose tackles in the NFL.

Cons: The Ravens would have to overspend for Brown, who wants to be paid as a guard ($8 million per season).

MATT STOVER, KICKER

Pros: He's the third-most-accurate kicker in NFL history (83.7 percent). His 43-yard field goal with 53 seconds remaining won the divisional playoff game at Tennessee.

Cons: Age is a concern with Stover, who is 41. The Ravens also don't believe he can kick off during an entire season, which means using another roster spot for a kickoff specialist.

JIM LEONHARD, SAFETY, RETURNER

Pros: His ability to fill in as starting safety and punt returner proved invaluable. Leonhard was a playoffs playmaker.

Cons: The Ravens are stacked at safety with Ed Reed, Dawan Landry, Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura. The team could spend the money more wisely to address thinner positions.

Jamison Hensley

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