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With Joe Flacco's deal done, Ravens will likely decline to use franchise tag

FootballBaltimore RavensJoe FlaccoSuper BowlNFL Pro BowlBernard Pierce

Now that quarterback Joe Flacco is poised to become the highest paid player in the NFL by virtue of a $120.6 million contract, the Ravens aren't expected to use the franchise tag on any of their other unrestricted free agents.

Although Monday afternoon marks the league deadline to use the designation, general manager Ozzie Newsome has already stated that Flacco was the Ravens' lone candidate to be named a franchise player. The Flacco contract, which includes a record $62 million payout during the first three years, won't become official until the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player takes and passes a physical and signs his contract Monday.

"If we get a deal done with Joe, we will not franchise another player," Newsome said during a season-ending news conference. "We will not do that."

There are several reasons why the Ravens won't use the franchise tag this year after using it last year on Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice — before lifting it when they signed him to a $40 million contract — and in 2011 when Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata reached agreement on a $61 million deal.

The primary reason to not use the franchise tag on inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, outside linebacker Paul Kruger or free safety Ed Reed is the Ravens' fluid salary-cap situation.

The Flacco contract now has a much lower salary-cap impact for the 2013 fiscal year — estimated at roughly $6.8 million to $7 million in the first year — than it would if he had been given a $19.1 million exclusive franchise tender or a $14.896 million nonexclusive franchise tender.

Even with inside linebacker Ray Lewis and center Matt Birk retiring and creating $6.4 million in salary cap space and accounting for the Flacco deal, the Ravens have just $11.263 million in cap room under the $123 million limit. That includes $1.182 million the Ravens carried over from 2012.

For the Super Bowl champions, using the franchise tag on any of their free agents is regarded as problematic because it would take up the majority of their remaining cap room and prevent them from retaining a restricted free agent class that includes tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson and defensive lineman Arthur Jones.

"It's really practically impossible," said former sports agent Joel Corry, who now analyzes the business of football for National Football Post. "The Ravens wouldn't be able to tender their restricted free agents and sign Flacco and accommodate a franchise tag. They just don't have the cap room."

Factoring in the Flacco deal, the Ravens would have 48 contract commitments for 2013 totaling $111.737 million, including $1.8 million in dead money for former Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff.

In the case of Reed, because he made $7.2 million last year, his franchise tender would be 120 percent higher than last year's salary and above the slotted franchise safety tender of $6.916 million.

Although Reed, 34, is coming off a Pro Bowl season where he intercepted a Colin Kaepernick pass during the Ravens' Super Bowl victory and started every game, he has a history of durability issues and his range has admittedly declined.

"I don't see how you can justify using the tag on an older player like Ed, as great as he's been," Corry said. "You also run the risk of him getting angry about being restricted in terms of having his freedom to choose between the Ravens or another team like the Colts or the Patriots at this stage of his career. They're better off just talking with Ed and trying to work something out.

"He's at an age where typically safeties don't get paid. The president of his fan club, Bill Belichick, is up in New England. Maybe they can get him at a reasonable rate and he becomes their new Rodney Harrison."

It would cost the Ravens a $9.619 million tender to make Ellerbe their franchise player.

Ellerbe is coming off a breakthrough season where he recorded 89 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks despite several injuries, and led the Ravens with nine tackles in the Super Bowl. Ideally, the Ravens would like to strike a deal with the athletic former undrafted free agent from Georgia.

Ravens vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty has met with Ellerbe's agent, Hadley Engelhard, who characterizes the preliminary talks as positive and productive while falling short of serious discussions since the Ravens had naturally made Flacco their first priority.

"Is Ellerbe worth the franchise tag?" Corry said. "I would say, 'No.' I know he has added value with Ray Lewis' retirement and he's probably more valuable to the Ravens than anyone else. I don't see how you justify it with their cap situation. I could see him eventually getting paid in the [Detroit Lions inside linebacker] Stephen Tulloch ($25.5 million) range by Baltimore or someone else. I don't think he'll get into that [Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker] Lawrence Timmons range, which was about $38 million."

It's been quiet between the Ravens and Kruger, a former second-round draft pick who recorded a career-high nine sacks during the regular season with another 4 1/2 sacks in the playoffs, including two in the Super Bowl.

Pass rushers typically are paid extremely well.

"It's a premier position," Corry said. "I think the Kruger market is going to get very expensive, probably more than the Ravens will want or are able to pay. I could see him getting $40 million or so. He's a natural fit for the Colts with the Chuck Pagano connection to Baltimore and them having so much cap room. The Browns are switching to the 3-4 and have over $40 million in cap room, so that's another team he could fit in with."

One byproduct of getting the Flacco deal done is that he'll be around for the Ravens' offseason program and minicamps, unlike last year when Rice was absent while his deal was getting worked on.

"Joe sat back and let it handle itself, and it all worked out in the end," Rice said Sunday during an appearance to benefit his foundation at Jimmy's Seafood in Baltimore. "I'm glad Joe's done so he can be there in the offseason. Me and him will be there to lead this offense again. Now that Joe is done, I hope we keep all of our guys, but it's tough to keep everybody."

The Ravens reached an agreement with Flacco following a historic postseason where he delivered 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions.

What's going to be the net effect of Flacco getting paid? Rice predicted he'll be picking up the tab at a lot of dinners next season.

"Every week, we're going out to eat," Rice said. "Seriously, I couldn't be more proud of the guy. He's been through a lot of scrutiny. The other quarterbacks can say what they want, but it's a right-now league. Check the playoff stats out — Joe Flacco is the MVP."

Running back Bernard Pierce said he can't see Flacco changing his blue-collar approach after his big payday.

"Joe earned it, of course, and money won't change people," Pierce said. "I'm certain he'll be the same. It's just nice to see somebody on our team get paid, and that they take care of their own."

awilson@baltsun.com

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