Baroclinic wave development is investigated for unstable parallel shear flows in the limit of vanishing normal-mode growth rate. This development is described in terms of the propagation and interaction mechanisms of two coherent structures, called counter-propagating Rossby waves (CRWs). It is shown that, in this limit of vanishing normal-mode growth rate, arbitrary initial conditions produce sustained linear amplification of the marginally neutral normal mode (mNM). This linear excitation of the mNM is subsequently interpreted in terms of a resonance phenomenon. Moreover, while the mathematical character of the normal-mode problem changes abruptly as the bifurcation point in the dispersion diagram is encountered and crossed, it is shown that from an initial-value (CRW) viewpoint, this transition is smooth. Consequently, the resonance interpretation remains relevant (albeit for a finite time) for wavenumbers slightly different from the ones defining cut-off points. The results are further applied to a two-layer version of the classic Eady model in which the upper rigid lid has been replaced by a simple stratosphere.