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Sunday, April 13
Updated: April 17, 10:19 AM ET
Ravens, WR Sanders agree to deal

By Len Pasquarelli

Moving to bolster their passing game before the draft, the Baltimore Ravens on Wednesday evening culminated weeks of courtship with free agent wide receiver Frank Sanders, reaching agreement in principle with the former Arizona Cardinals standout on a four-year contract.

One of three unrestricted wide receivers targeted by Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome at the outset of the signing period, Sanders will arrive later this week in Baltimore to sign the contract. Because there are minor details to be worked out, financial terms were not yet available.

Agent Eugene Parker told ESPN.com last week that a decision by Sanders, on whether to re-sign with the Cardinals or accept the Ravens offer, was to come soon and emphasized a deal would be completed before the draft.

The acquisition of Sanders, 30, alleviates the need for the Ravens to reach for a wide receiver in the draft. The Ravens, who statistically ranked 27th in the league in passing offense in 2002, had just one wide receiver, third-year pro Travis Taylor, catch more than 60 passes.

The other starter, Brandon Stokley, had just 24 receptions. Even in his worst career season in 2002, Sanders caught more passes than that. He will add a steady hand and a still-viable intermediate threat for the Ravens.

Plagued by nagging injuries, Sanders struggled in 2002 and posted career worsts in most major categories, including appearances (12), starts (12), receptions (34), receiving yards (400) and yards per catch (11.8). But clearly the Baltimore staff feels he still has some productive seasons remaining.

"Frank has been labeled, fairly or unfairly, as a possession receiver," Ravens receivers coach David Shaw said. "I label Frank as a good receiver. To me, good receivers play for a long time, get open, and catch the ball. That's what Frank has done for eight years now."

The former Auburn star, selected in the second round of the 1995 draft, had played his entire previous career with the Cardinals. He had acknowledged to friends that leaving the franchise would be difficult for him.

In eight years, he had 493 catches for 6,579 yards and 24 touchdowns. His best stretch came in 1997-98, when he posted a combined 164 receptions for 2,162 yards and seven touchdowns. Sanders caught more than 50 passes in each of his first six seasons in the league and was noted as a clutch third-down performer, a very physical and acrobatic receiver.

He has played in 123 games and started 120 of them.

The Ravens had also considered free agents David Boston and Curtis Conway earlier in the signing period, but the former went to San Diego and the latter to the New York Jets.

Sanders visited with Baltimore officials last month and then, for the next four weeks, deliberated over the offer and weighed his options. Newsome hinted that there was an urgency to come to a resolution this week.

"We have an experienced guy now who can provide some leadership, can teach our (young) guys what it takes to work at this level, and what it takes to prepare from week to week," Newsome said.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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