By Aaron Wilson
The Baltimore Sun
5:54 PM EST, February 17, 2014
Now that the Ravens have finalized their $28.5 million contract extension with Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, they still have a considerable amount of unfinished business.
The Ravens are in active negotiations with many of their unrestricted free agents and have scheduled meetings with their agents for later this week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
“We’ve engaged in discussions with several of our players,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said Monday during a news conference at team headquarters to announce Suggs’ four-year deal. “With the combine coming up, the majority of the agents will be there and we will be there. I’m sure we’ll have some more talks, but we’ve engaged in several conversations with several players.”
The Ravens are in active talks with tight end Dennis Pitta, but remain “far apart” on numbers, according to sources.
Unless that financial gap is bridged during a two-week window to use the franchise tag that began Monday and ends with an NFL deadline of March 3, a source predicted that the Ravens will designate Pitta as their franchise player. Should that happen, a source predicted that Pitta would file a grievance through the NFL Players Association to be designated at the wide receiver franchise number of $11.5 million instead of the tight end tag of $6.709 million. The primary argument, which would be heard by an NFL arbitrator, would be that Pitta played the majority of his snaps running routes as a slot receiver last season.
The uncertainty of how much it would wind up costing to retain Pitta as a franchise player is an issue for the team.
The Ravens have conducted preliminary talks with offensive tackle Eugene Monroe and have made him a negotiating priority, according to a source.
The Ravens want to get Monroe under contract and envision him as a long-term solution at left tackle after trading fourth-round and fifth-round draft picks to the Jacksonville Jaguars to acquire him in October.
The Ravens are considered unlikely to make Monroe their franchise player because the offensive tackle franchise tag is so expensive at $11 million. If the Ravens are able to strike a deal with Monroe, then they aren’t expected to try to keep free agent right tackle Michael Oher.
The Ravens also want to retain middle linebacker Daryl Smith, who led the team with 123 tackles last season and recorded five sacks and three interceptions. No deal is imminent, though, per a source.
Although the Ravens now have roughly $16 million in salary-cap space after lowering Suggs’ salary-cap figure from an original $12.4 million to $7.8 million, they still might not be able to afford free agent defensive lineman Arthur Jones. Jones is expected to draw heavy interest coming off a year where he had a career-high 53 tackles along with four sacks, according to sources.
The Ravens have explored the possibility of trying to lower Pro Bowl nose tackle Haloti Ngata’s team-high $16 million salary-cap figure, but were unable to reach a “realistic” financial compromise, according to a source.
Ngata is due $8.5 million base salaries over the final two seasons of his five-year, $61 million contract that includes $37.1 million guaranteed.
Cutting Ngata isn’t being considered, according to a source, and isn’t regarded as a viable option because it would create $15 million in dead money this year.
Besides trying to keep some of their group of free agents, which includes wide receiver and kick returner Jacoby Jones and cornerback Corey Graham, Newsome said the Ravens now have the salary-cap flexibility to look at other teams’ free agents.
The free agent signing period officially begins March 11 at 4 p.m., and teams are allowed to talk with other teams’ free agents on March 8.
“What it does is it just allows us to have the opportunity to pursue some of our own guys, but also be prepared for when free agency opens up on March 11,” Newsome said. “If there are some players that are attractive to us, then we can pursue them.”
Besides receiving an $11 million signing bonus, a guaranteed $1 million base salary for this season and a guaranteed base salary of $4 million in 2015, Suggs also helped the team by creating salary-cap space.
“You learn the business side of it, and it was like, ‘You might have to do something just so that we can create cap space and bring in more players for us to help us win,” Suggs said. “At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing is us winning.”