The Ravens’ top decision makers are returning to Baltimore from the NFL scouting combine today and much activity awaits them. In Indianapolis for nearly a week, the Ravens got a good look at the talented draft class and a better feel for the prospects that fit them best from both a playing and personality standpoint.
What they didn’t do is make any additions or subtractions to their offseason roster. On Tuesday, teams are allowed to negotiate with the representatives of free agents, the start of a two-day period otherwise known as the legal tampering window. Having already taken advantage of the opportunity to gauge the market for their clients at the combine, the representatives of the top free agents will be in position to move forward with deals on Tuesday.
The official start of free agency will then be on Thursday at 4 p.m., but the tampering window has taken some of the drama from the market’s official opening.
Any way you look at it, this week and the week of the draft (April 27-29) are the busiest of the offseason. Over the next 48 hours, there will be plenty on the Ravens’ to-do list:
Take one more shot at re-signing their top free agents: As of Sunday afternoon, it appeared that the Ravens’ top three pending free agents – fullback Kyle Juszczyk, right tackle Rick Wagner and nose tackle Brandon Williams - were all headed to the open market. If that happens, the Ravens’ chances of re-signing them would reduce significantly. Of course, everything could change with one phone call. At least with Juszczyk, the expectation was that his agent, Joe Linta, would speak to the Ravens again today. The Ravens also badly want to re-sign Williams, so you’d expect them to give that one more try as well. However, they are running out of time. If the agents for Juszczyk, Wagner and Williams are taking their clients to the open market, you can bet that they know there will be bigger deals awaiting them than the Ravens’ offer. Word among agents at the combine was that Williams could be looking at a deal around $10 million per year. That would be a tough commitment for the Ravens to make. Linta is pitching Juszczyk as more than just a fullback and Wagner seems primed to get top right tackle money. General manager Ozzie Newsome often uses the phrase: “right player, right price.” The Ravens may just decide on their big three that the price isn’t right and opt to go in another direction.
Get their salary cap in order: The aggressive round of salary cap cuts that reporters and fans have been speculating about for weeks has yet to materialize. That’s a bit surprising because the Ravens usually make a few cuts about seven to 10 days before the start of free agency. But the reality is the Ravens don’t have to create more salary cap space – they currently have about $14 million - until they actually need it. With the official start of the new league year rapidly approaching, they’ll need it very soon. By now, you know the names of potential salary cap casualties. That list includes tight end Benjamin Watson, center Jeremy Zuttah, rush linebacker Elvis Dumervil and defensive backs Shareece Wright, Kyle Arrington and Kendrick Lewis. Tight end Dennis Pitta and safety Lardarius Webb could be asked to take a pay cut and their roster spots could be in jeopardy if the two sides can’t find compromise.
Extend contract tenders: Before 4 p.m. Thursday, the Ravens will have to extend qualifying offers to the restricted free agents and minimum salary tenders to the exclusive rights free agents that they want to keep. Those who don’t get contract tenders will become free agents. Of their restricted free agents, running back Terrance West and wide receiver/punt returner Michael Campanaro appear likely to get contract tenders. The other four restricted free agents – offensive linemen James Hurst and Ryan Jensen and defensive backs Marqueston Huff and Jumal Rolle – are less than certain to return. The Ravens could opt to non-tender them and bring them back on different deals. The Ravens traditionally extend contract offers to all their exclusive rights free agents, which means that wide receivers Keenan Reynolds and Chris Matthews, offensive tackle De’Ondre Wesley, linebackers Brennen Beyer, Patrick Onwuasor and Lamar Louis and defensive back Sheldon Price should return.
Make decision on Mike Wallace’s option: Ravens coach John Harbaugh may have taken a bit of drama out of this decision last week when he said he anticipated that the speedy wide receiver would return. Still, the Ravens will have to decide prior to 4 p.m. Thursday whether to officially exercise Wallace’s $5.75 million option for 2017. If they do, Wallace will be due a $1 million roster bonus on the fifth day of the new year. If they don’t, they would create nearly $6 million in salary cap space. However, they’d also be without their leader in receiving yards last season. A potential addition of a veteran receiver, like Brandon Marshall, could factor in the team’s decision. The Ravens also could try to extend Wallace, which presumably would lower his cap number for the 2017 season.