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Will Dilfer remain a Raven?

That's the question facing coach Brian Billick, who says he wants his winning QB back.

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 30, 2001


TAMPA -- The morning after his Ravens captured Super Bowl XXXV, coach Brian Billick's face was a billboard of confidence.

Predictably, he appeared unfazed by what could be an off-season of change.

Interestingly, he seemed nonchalant and non-committal about the future of his starting quarterback, Trent Dilfer.

"At this point, I have no reason to think (Dilfer won't be back next year)," Billick said Monday. "But we're coming into a time with free agency where that's up to Trent and his preparation, where we're at, what our other free-agent situation is and what's out in the market.

"It's a free-agent market system, so to speak, and so from just a personal (standpoint), yeah, I would love to have Trent back."

After completing 12 of 25 passes for 152 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions in a 34-7 victory Sunday over the Giants, Dilfer is a free agent.

He signed a one-year, $1-million contract last off-season after the Bucs decided not to pick up the option on the final year of his contract.

Dilfer entered the season as a backup to Tony Banks but was promoted at midseason. He started eight of 11 regular-season games and passed for 1,502 yards, 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

"They should make a movie about us and show it to every Little League," Dilfer said after the game. "This is a group of professional athletes that decided to be unselfish. We decided that team was more important than self and that wins were more important than stats, as much as (the media) tried to write stuff to make us think otherwise."

During the season, Dilfer's modest statistics fueled speculation that the Ravens would not re-sign him. With Redskins starter Brad Johnson jockeying for playing time with Jeff George, speculation increased that Johnson would be reunited with Billick, who offensive coordinator during their time with the Vikings.

All Dilfer did was respond with victories. With a don't-lose-it-for-us philosophy -- and the Ravens defense doing the rest -- Baltimore won 11 in a row to finish the season.

The big question is whether Dilfer has persuaded Billick and Ozzie Newsome, vice president of player personnel, to bring him back.

"I've seen some quotes, some people that are saying "sources close to the Ravens say' this or that is going to happen," Billick said. "Ozzie and I will make those decisions. Those decisions have not been made. So those sources close to the Ravens may be (from) the coffee shop across the street. Well, it's close to the Ravens."

With a number of their big-name players (Ray Lewis, Jamal Lewis, Shannon Sharpe) locked into three- and four-year contracts, the Ravens are over the projected $67-million salary cap. It means Baltimore has to be selective.

Dealing with Dilfer and the rest of the free agents isn't the only major issue facing the Ravens.

Defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, credited with shaping the NFL's best defense this season and a strong candidate for best ever, is expected to become coach of the Buffalo Bills.

Said Billick: "I would find it hard to believe that someone as capable as Marvin Lewis ... that someone would not feel that he's qualified to be a head coach in the NFL. That would be a stretch to me."

Ray Lewis, who followed his regular-season defensive MVP with a Super Bowl MVP, said his team's record-setting defense has everything to do with Marvin Lewis, but it will have to move on in his absence.

"I think this defense has to give 90 percent of the credit to Marvin because he's the master behind it," he said. "And at the same time we have to understand if Marvin does leave, we can't cry. We've just got to keep doing what we're doing and push on."

For Ray Lewis, there was no crying Sunday night or Monday morning when he collected another piece of hardware: a gray and silver Ford Explorer for winning the Super Bowl MVP.

Lewis was asked if he had taken time to reflect on events that occurred the night of the Super Bowl one year ago in Atlanta.

"Honestly, not," he said of the stabbing deaths of two men in which murder charges against him were dropped after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstructing justice. "When I left the hotel I went to see my kids and my nephews and my nieces. ... There was no feeling like that in the world, to walk up to my son (Ray III), who's 5 years old, and he tells me, "Daddy, you were the Super Bowl MVP.'

"For my son to say that, there would be no time for me to reflect back to what I went through this past off-season."

- Staff writer Mike Readling contributed to this report.

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