By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun
9:27 PM EDT, March 13, 2012
The first couple of hours of free agency came and went Tuesday with the Ravens — as expected — remaining quiet while confronting the reality they may be on the verge of losing arguably their top free agent.
Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs, who the Ravens presented with a substantial offer last month, will visit with the New Orleans Saints on Wednesday. The Saints are looking to replace their own All-Pro free agent Carl Nicks who is reportedly intent on becoming the highest paid guard in the NFL.
Grubbs' asking price isn't as high as Nicks', but as of now, it appears to be out of the Ravens' range. According to sources, the Ravens made the 28-year-old an offer similar to the five-year, $32.5 million pact it gave right guard Marshal Yanda last July. However, Grubbs apparently wants more than that and was intent on shopping his services on the open market.
The Ravens knew if Grubbs reached free agency, which officially opened at 4 p.m.Tuesday , their odds of retaining the guard would drop dramatically. That's because the Ravens don't have an abundance of financial flexibility— they are believed to have approximately $10 million of cap space —and they have several other offseason priorities, including signing quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice to extensions, finding another pass rusher and bolstering the offensive line, wide receiving and linebacker corps.
Throughout the offseason, team officials have been adamant their first priority was trying to secure a handful of their free agents. They also maintained the Ravens would approach free agency as the organization always has, remaining patient and let the market calm down and allow their own free agents an opportunity to see how they are valued elsewhere.
Solid defensive end Cory Redding joined Grubbs in taking advantage of that opportunity on Tuesday night as he visited the Indianapolis Colts , and their first-year head coach Chuck Pagano, the Ravens' former defensive coordinator. The Ravens have informed Redding they'd like to have him back, valuing both his locker room leadership and his production. The 31-year-old had 4 1/2 sacks and 42 tackles while playing in 15 regular-season games.
However, the Ravens also don't appear to be primed to get out of their financial comfort zone, not with young defensive linemen Pernell McPhee and Arthur Jones seemingly ready to step into bigger roles.
The Ravens also have expressed interest in re-signing starting linebackers Jarret Johnson and Jameel McClain, but both hit the open market Tuesday and are free to shop their services to other teams. The Ravensalso are seemingly committed to re-signing veteran center Matt Birk, whose agent, Joe Linta, confirmed Tuesday that he remains in negotiations with the team.
"Although we had calls after 4 p.m. [Tuesday], Matt's choice is to remain a Raven and we will push hard to have him stay," Linta said.
"He loves the team and Coach [John] Harbaugh and really wants to come back," said Linta, who is expected to be in Baltimore later this week to continue discussions about Flacco's potential contract extension.
While the Ravens provided no free agent surprises on the first day of the NFL fiscal year, they were reminded that it may be tough to upgrade their receiving corpsin free agency. Many of the top free agent pass catchers were removed from the market and signed to huge deals.
Marques Colston re-signed with the Saints before hitting free agency while Vincent Jackson (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Pierre Garcon (Washington Redskins) and Josh Morgan (Washington Redskins) also found new teams. The Saints' Robert Meachem and the Denver Broncos' Eddie Royal also reportedly are nearing deals. The Ravens had interest in both Garcon and Royal but understood that they could get priced out of their markets.
NOTES: Not only did the Ravens not tender a contract offer to running back Matt Lawrence, they also didn't make a qualifying offer to linebacker Chavis Williams. … Ravens Senior Vice President Kevin Byrne confirmed that the organization sent a group of people to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium two weeks ago to continue planning an open practice at the Annapolis facility during training camp. The tentative date that the two parties are eyeing is Aug.12. The Ravens, who have moved training camp from Westminster to their facility in Owings Mills, have vowed to have a couple of open practices during training camp at other locations to give their fans an opportunity to take part in the experience.
Sun staff writer Matt Vensel contributed to this article
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