With inquiries from nearly half the franchises in the league, linebacker Peter Boulware, released by the Baltimore Ravens nearly two weeks ago for salary cap and injury reasons, might be the most attractive player remaining in the free agent pool.
He might also be the most patient.
While some of the other veterans still seeking to land an invitation to training camp have begun to panic, and anxiety levels escalate as the calendar nears June and rosters continue to fill, Boulware is exercising deliberation. Just as teams are doing background checks on him, he is taking the time to study the pedigree of some of his suitors as well. A man in demand, Boulware is in no hurry yet to decide where to continue his career.
"So far, give or take, I've had calls from 14 teams, all with varying degrees of interest," agent Roosevelt Barnes said. "So it's pretty much a given that Pete will be playing in the NFL this season. But he's not in a hurry to do a deal just for the sake of doing one. Sure, he wants to get settled somewhere, get into the program, get a comfort zone with his new team and teammates. But he has to be a good fit with a team and the team with which he signs has to be a good fit for him."
There are times such agent-talk is merely rhetoric, posturing because a client is drawing little interest, but this is not one of those occasions. No fewer than nine general managers or personnel directors have confirmed to ESPN.com that they are interested in Boulware, depending on the physical status of a player who missed the entire 2004 season.
To date, Boulware has visited with only one team, the Houston Texans, who regard him as a pass-rush threat in their 3-4 front. There are other teams that have sought to meet with Boulware, to poke and probe him and adjudge his physical viability, but he likely will not schedule more visits until the end of this week at the earliest.
Barnes apprised the interested parties that his client wants to wait until after the NFL meetings in Washington, D.C., this week, which are Tuesday and Wednesday. Once the owners have moved beyond business issues, and are prepared to focus on football again, Boulware will set up visits with those franchises he discerns have legitimate interest in him, and a plan for how to utilize the four-time Pro Bowl performer.
"Pete is doing his homework right now," Barnes said, "the same way teams are doing their due diligence on him. He went to Houston, because they pushed hard for an early meeting with him, and he liked what he saw there. This won't be a world tour, but he will make some more (visits)."
Two of those visits, almost certainly, will be with the Cleveland Browns and the Seattle Seahawks, since Boulware has connections with both franchises. His younger brother, Michael Boulware, is the starting strong safety in Seattle. New Browns general manager Phil Savage was the personnel director in Baltimore and knows Boulware well.
Part of the process with Boulware, as well, will be determining his salary desires. He was slated for a base salary of $6 million this season in Baltimore and, while he won't land a contract worth nearly that much in 2005, neither will he jump at a bargain basement deal. It probably will take more than the other free agent linebackers who recently moved to new teams for 2005 will receive this season.
Then again, Boulware has a superior résumé of all of the outside linebackers left in free agency, a group that also includes Kevin Hardy, Anthony Simmons and Jason Gildon. He is the leading sacker in Ravens history and, until a knee injury sidelined him for the final game in 2003, had never missed a regular-season contest.
Boulware, 30, spent the entire 2004 season on the physically unable to perform list as he attempted to recover from the knee injury. He underwent toe surgery in December, the result of a November injury sustained in his first practice of the year, but said he has recovered from that.
The Ravens felt that five-year veteran Adalius Thomas, who is three years younger than Boulware and who started every game last season, can take over the weakside linebacker spot as the team moves to a 4-3 front in 2005. Baltimore also drafted Oklahoma defensive end Dan Cody in the second round of the recent draft, and he will be used at linebacker in some situations.
It is likely, though, that the Ravens would have retained Boulware, at least as a situational pass rusher, had the two sides been able to strike an accord on a reworked contract. Team officials had conducted discussions with Barnes, but the two sides could not find a middle ground.
The Ravens' first-round choice in the 1997 draft, and the fourth overall player selected that year, Boulware appeared in 111 games and started 102 of them. He registered 394 tackles, 67½ sacks, 18 passes defensed, one interception, 13 fumbles forced and five fumble recoveries. Three times in his career, he has rung up double-digit sacks, with a career high of 15 in 2001.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.