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Contract talks between the Ravens and Joe Flacco haven't started

The scouting combine has been the backdrop for Joe Flacco contract negotiations before.

Joe Linta, agent for Joe Flacco, will be in Indianapolis next week at the NFL’s scouting combine, and he said that he’d be more than willing to meet with team officials if they want to discuss the quarterback’s contract.

To this point though, the talks between the two sides haven’t started and Linta is proceeding as if nothing needs to change, a sentiment that Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome expressed at last month’s end-of-season news conference. Newsome said the organization would like to be strategic enough in building its 2016 roster that it won’t have to renegotiate Flacco’s contract, which carries a $28.55 million salary cap hit this season.

The Ravens do things on their own timetable and they essentially won’t need significant cap flexibility until free agency begins on March 9, but the fact they haven’t approached Linta yet suggests Newsome’s comments last month may not have just been lip service.       

“We might do that,” said Linta when asked late yesterday whether he would meet with Ravens’ officials at the scouting combine. The annual offseason event is not only a showcase for draft-eligible players, but it is an opportunity for agents to meet with general managers from different teams. The setting has served as a backdrop for negotiations between Linta and the Ravens before.  

“Ozzie has been on record saying that they don’t need to do anything,” Linta said. “We talked about it back then. I don’t think they really need to do anything. I think everything is fine as is. But that’s really not for Joe to decide.”

Some around the league believe that the Ravens’ ability to make meaningful roster additions hinges solely on whether they can either extend or restructure Flacco’s six year, $120.6 million contract to gain some immediate salary cap relief. Only two players – New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees ($30 million) and Miami Dolphins defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh ($28.6 million) – currently have bigger salary cap numbers in 2016.

Even with the salary cap potentially rising to $155 million according to a report Monday by the NFL Network – it was $143.2 million last year – the Ravens would have a ton of maneuvering to do to create cap flexibility if they don’t redo Flacco’s deal.

Flacco acknowledged as much the day after the season ended, saying that he understands that his cap number will be “somewhat of an issue.” In a radio interview late last month, Flacco acknowledged that his cap number is “not really realistic” and expressed a willingness to talk about a reworked contract if approached.

 The cap-challenged Ravens would like to sign several of their 11 unrestricted free agents, a group headed by offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele, kicker Justin Tucker and strong-side linebacker Courtney Upshaw. They have four restricted free agents to deal with, including emerging wide receiver Kamar Aiken who figured to get a second-round, $2.5 million tender. They also clearly have to make some outside additions to a team that struggled through a 5-11 season in 2016 with pass rusher, cornerback, offensive tackle and wide receiver being the prominent needs.

It will be impossible to accomplish any of those things without getting some significant salary cap relief somewhere. That relief could come from releasing a slew of veterans, although the Ravens don’t have a ton of obvious release candidates beyond veteran defensive players Daryl Smith, Chris Canty and Kyle Arrington. Tight end Dennis Pitta's contract will probably be addressed at some point, but that might be more of a post-June 1 situation. 

They could restructure several contracts, but that’s a strategy that Newsome and company have been reluctant to use in recent years. The most logical way to create significant cap space is to hammer out a new deal with Flacco, the team’s long-time starting quarterback. Linta said that he and Flacco would be open to such talks.

“Joe has a contract and he’s happy with it,” Linta said. “I’m not saying that we wouldn’t talk to them to help them out if possible. We’d be happy to try and help. But it’s not a big deal right now.”  

Linta said that Flacco’s focus remains on rehabbing his left knee. The quarterback tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments when reserve offensive tackle James Hurst rolled into him during a game against the St. Louis Rams on Nov.22.

Flacco, 31, had surgery on Dec.8 and he continues to make progress in his recovery. Several team officials have raved about how hard Flacco has attacked his rehab program. The Ravens are optimistic that he’ll be ready for training camp in July, but it’s far too early to know for sure.

“He’s happy,” Linta said. “According to him, he’s ahead of schedule. He feels good. I don’t think there’s any timetable yet. These things historically have been five months on the inside, seven to eight months on the outside. It’s only been two months now. He’s in there every day and working with them. But there’s no rush.”

Asked about Flacco’s mindset, Linta said, “He’s a competitor. He wants to wash the taste of [the injury] from his mouth as soon as possible.”

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