There is a lot of ambiguity when it comes to the 2011 free-agent season. Absent a collective bargaining agreement, it won't be cleared up anytime soon.
So we don't really know whether the Ravens have 17 unrestricted free agents, or only six, as general manager Ozzie Newsome claimed at last week's news conference.
Here are the facts: Prior to the 2010 season, it took four years in the NFL for a player to become unrestricted. When the owners opted out of the current CBA, that number jumped to six years for the 2010 season.
It's not a small matter. It's the difference in a player like Haloti Ngata, draft class of 2006, being restricted or unrestricted. If you go by the 2010 rules, he's restricted; by the 2009 rules, he's unrestricted.
"If you operate under 2010 rules, it's six years to free agency," Ravens president Dick Cass said. "[In that case] there'd be many fewer UFA's. ... [Haloti] would be restricted. Anyone in the 2006 draft would still be restricted, if it were six years to free agency."
The Ravens have 17 players who have been in the league for at least four years. With Billy Cundiff's contract virtually done, that leaves 16 players still to be re-signed. But are they unrestricted or restricted?
The Ravens could tender and retain fullback Le'Ron McClain, tackle Marshal Yanda and cornerback Josh Wilson -- all in the class of 2007 -- if the 2010 rules apply.
Only quarterback Marc Bulger (10 years), cornerbacks Chris Carr (6) and Fabian Washington (6), and receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh (10) and Donte' Stallworth (8) are certain to be UFA's this offseason.
The Ravens have another nine players -- including linebackers Tavares Gooden and Jameel McClain, and safeties Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski -- who have three years in the league and almost certainly will be restricted once the smoke clears.
Under the 2010 rules, the Ravens could slap a franchise tag on Ngata to keep him, but they would have to do it before March 4, when the tentative lockout would begin. Franchise tags and tenders must be in place by then.
Until March 4, the Ravens can sign their own players, but not players from another team.
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