Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh provided a glimpse into the team’s offseason plans Friday, and those plans very much include an aggressive run at re-signing Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs.
Earlier this offseason, Grubbs’ departure for a huge free agent deal was viewed as a near formality, but Newsome said Friday that team officials have been negotiating with the player’s agent, Pat Dye, with the hope of reaching a deal before the offensive lineman hits the open market March 13.
“I’m pretty optimistic about it right now,” Harbaugh said. “I hope that’s not misplaced. We’re in the process of negotiating. We’re committed, [owner Steve Bisciotti’s] committed to offering him a really great number. Hey, the market dictates [it], and Ben has to make those kinds of decisions, and you’re really happy for guys. He’s had a great career. He’s had a great number of years here. He’s earned the right to take a look for his family. One thing we’re not doing, we’re not giving him a low number. We’re doing everything we can to try to keep him in Baltimore.”
In separate interviews on the second full day of the NFL scouting combine at the Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium, Harbaugh and Newsome confirmed that safety Ed Reed will be back for an 11th season. They also expressed confidence that the team will come to agreement on long-term deals with quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice, downplayed the possibility of going after a big-name free agent wide receiver, and expressed interest in bringing back several of their 13 unrestricted free agents.
One of the headliners in that group is Grubbs, the Ravens’ first round pick in 2007, who had started every game for the team before missing six games this past season because of a toe injury.
He’s expected to command a huge deal, perhaps in excess of the five-year, $32.5 million contract the Ravens gave right guard Marshal Yanda last July. The big commitment to Yanda, along with the Ravens’ long-term uncertainty at center and left tackle, and their stated offseason priorities of reaching long-term deals with Flacco and Rice, led to the conclusion that they weren’t going to be able to afford Grubbs.
However, Newsome said the team has enough wiggle room under the salary cap to make a nice offer to Grubbs and achieve its other offseason goals.
“We’ve had the opportunity to assess our roster. We will make some moves between now and March 13 to release players,” said Newsome, who described Grubbs as a player the organization would love to have back. “We already had one player [Ricky Williams] that has decided that he is going to retire. We already have a strategy in place that will allow us to have the ability to sign players that we want to sign and to be able to franchise Ray [Rice] if we have to, if we get to that. We have a plan in place.”
Though no definitive decisions have been made, that plan is expected to include either the release or the restructuring of several contracts to give the Ravens more flexibility under the salary cap. Wide receiver Lee Evans and cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr are the most likely cap casualties, though it’s possible that Foxworth, who is still dealing with knee issues, could retire. Newsome said that he will meet with the former Maryland standout late next week when he returns from the combine.
Other than that, the Ravens should be in decent enough salary cap standing to avoid a huge roster overhaul.
“We’ve got some pretty good cap room,” Harbaugh said. “We’re really good in cash. We can do some things with contracts. We’re looking at signing some young guys maybe ahead of time. We’ve got a lot of plans at the table. It will be fun to see how it shakes out.”
The “young guys” Harbaugh speaks of almost certainly includes cornerback Lardarius Webb who is a restricted free agent. The Ravens are expected to place a first-round tender on Webb, but their ultimate goal is to sign the 26-year-old, who emerged as one of the better corners in the AFC this season, to a long-term extension.
For now though, the Ravens’ focus is on reaching a deal with Flacco and negotiating with their own unrestricted free agents who are priorities to bring back. Newsome said he wants to re-sign linebacker Jameel McClain and would like Jarret Johnson to return and retire as a Raven, but he acknowledged the price would have to be right.
The status of veteran center Matt Birk is less certain. He is a free agent and mulling retirement, but if he decides to return, Newsome said “it’s under discussion” whether the Ravens will re-sign him. Either way, the team will attempt to get younger on the offensive line to protect the investment that they plan to make on Flacco.
Ravens president Dick Cass and vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty will meet Saturday with Flacco’s agent, Joe Linta, to begin discussing the framework of a long-term deal.
They also are planning on meeting with Todd France, Rice’s agent, before team officials leave Indianapolis. In Rice’s case, the franchise tag — which can be applied up until March 5 — appears to be a formality, and that will buy both the team and the running back’s representative some time to work on a deal. Flacco has one more year remaining on his rookie contract, but Bisciotti and other team officials don’t want him to head into the season without an extension.
“Sometimes in negotiations, it can be done in two days or it can take 12 months,” Newsome said. “I think there is a willingness with Joe Linta and on Joe Flacco’s part, and Steve and the organization, to try and get the deal done. We’re going to push toward that.”
Harbaugh also expressed confidence that the team will reach deals with Flacco and Rice, saying, “I think we can do it. The reality is they’re going to take a little longer. We’re going to have a lot of contract conversations and try to get [them] signed. … Ultimately we all believe those guys will be on the team for a long time.”
In injury news, wide receiver Torrey Smith had surgery to repair a double sports hernia. He apparently was dealing with it all season. Cornerback Cary Williams had a procedure to repair the labrum in his hip. Both are expected to be ready for training camp.
A couple of other tidbits: Newsome reiterated that the team is not in the market for a backup running back and it will allow Anthony Allen every opportunity to seize the job. Both he and Harbaugh also downplayed any effort to go after an elite receiver on the free agent market.