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When the Ravens' first free-agent addition, Trevor Pryce, takes his flight from Denver to Baltimore today, he will have a familiar face sitting beside him - running back Mike Anderson.
The Ravens agreed in principle last night on a four-year deal with Anderson, who expects to take over for Jamal Lewis as the team's starting running back. The total worth of the deal is believed to be $8 million with a $2 million signing bonus.Anderson, 32, gained 1,014 yards rushing and rushed for 12 touchdowns last season for the Denver Broncos. By locking up a veteran, the Ravens now can draft a running back without the pressure of immediately starting a rookie.
"When you have a finite career and a finite position, you want to maximize your opportunities," said Peter Schaffer, Anderson's agent. "With them losing their two running backs, that obviously is very enticing to us. He can be a starting running back hopefully for the next four years."
Lewis' agent, Mitch Frankel, had been negotiating with the Ravens yesterday and indicated the sides weren't "that far apart." Frankel was still expecting a call back from the Ravens last night when told of Anderson's deal with the team.
Lewis said last night that he had been taking a serious look at returning to the Ravens. The franchise's all-time leading rusher, Lewis is scheduled to visit the Broncos today but didn't rule out the Ravens even with Anderson there.
"I don't know," Lewis said of the Ravens' situation. "We'll have to take a look and see."
Anderson beat Lewis for the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2000, when he gained 1,487 yards and scored 15 touchdowns. Anderson's numbers declined from 2001 to 2003, when he averaged 440 yards. He was sidelined for the entire 2004 season because of a groin injury.
According to his agent, Anderson doesn't have the wear and tear of other veteran running backs.
"Mike might be 32 years old but he feels like he's 27 because he spent four years in the Marines," Schaffer said. "He believes he still has four solid years left."
Besides the addition of Anderson, defense was the theme of the Ravens' second day in free agency. The Ravens reached agreements with linebacker Bart Scott and defensive tackle Justin Bannan.
After losing punter Dave Zastudil and nose tackle Ted Washington to the free-spending Cleveland Browns, the Ravens were able to keep Scott from them with a three-year, $13.5 million contract (including a $6.5 million signing bonus) and a huge amount of loyalty on his part.
Considered one of the top sleepers in free agency, Scott stayed with the Ravens despite a more lucrative offer on the table from the Browns, a five-year, $25 million contract that averaged $500,000 more a year than the Ravens' deal.
"Money wasn't a determining factor for me," Scott said. "You got to be happy and be comfortable. I feel like I'm in a great situation to succeed. At the end of the day, money can't buy that."
Ravens officials were feverishly negotiating with Scott's agent while Browns executives were courting him for a second straight day. Scott, in fact, agreed to his deal while inside Cleveland's training facility.
"Fortunately I left before they kicked me out," Scott said just moments after leaving. "I guess I have good timing."
Scott, 25, had been a valued special teams player for the first three years of his career before starting for the first time last season as a replacement for the injured Ray Lewis. He finished second on the Ravens in tackles.
"All along, Baltimore is the place where I wanted to be," Scott said. "It took a trip to Cleveland to get me there but I didn't care how I got back there."
While the Ravens' pursuit of Scott was expected, their run at Bannan was not.
Bannan, 26, had been a backup to Sam Adams with the Bills but started seven of the final eight games last season when Adams was benched. In 55 career games with the Bills, Bannan had 78 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks.
His addition could mean a small interior line for the Ravens. Neither Bannan (305 pounds) nor Kelly Gregg (310) is the prototypical cog in the middle. The Ravens passed on big-bodied veterans such as Adams and Grady Jackson.
Bannan, though, is assured of being a starter after receiving a $3 million signing bonus in a four-year deal from the Ravens, who began expressing interest in him Saturday afternoon. He canceled visits to New Orleans and Miami after accepting the Ravens' offer.
"The money follows the opportunity," agent Tom Mills said. "They wouldn't pay him that to be a backup."
In describing Bannan, Mills said: "He's a high-motor guy. That's why he's going to fit well in the Ravens' defense. Everyone runs to the ball and plays hard until you hear the whistle."
In addition to their other needs at quarterback and safety, the Ravens now have to find a punter. Zastudil, a fourth-round draft pick in 2002, signed a five-year deal with Cleveland.
The veteran punters available are: Cleveland's Kyle Richardson (a former Raven), the Carolina Panthers' Jason Baker, the St. Louis Rams' Bryan Barker and the Seattle Seahawks' Tom Rouen.
"I loved my experience in Baltimore, and that made this decision really hard for me," Zastudil said. "There was only one team that I would ever consider leaving Baltimore for and that was Cleveland. I was born and raised here and I grew up a fan."
It was a busy opening weekend of free agency for the Ravens. They added a couple of salary cap casualties from the Broncos (Anderson and Pryce), retained an upstart linebacker (Scott) and lost four of their own free agents (Maake Kemoeatu, Zastudil, defensive end Tony Weaver and running back Chester Taylor).
"I'm looking and seeing a lot of people leaving," Jamal Lewis said. "I'm surprised. I don't know what's going on up there."
Sun reporter Mike Preston contributed to this article.