Ravens in solid salary shape

Despite the distraction surrounding Jamal Lewis' legal trouble, the Ravens have a reason for optimism heading into free agency next week.

Minus the $6.8 million designated toward giving Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister the franchise player tag, the Ravens still have the fourth-most salary cap room in the league. The AFC North champions are a projected $16.2 million under this season's $80.6 million cap.


Four teams - the Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders - will have to create substantial cap space by releasing players or restructuring contracts in order to use the franchise tag.

The most severe situation involves the Colts, who released five players yesterday to help offset an $18.4 million obligation to Peyton Manning as their franchise player.


"We're in a unique situation," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Compared to a lot of other clubs, this [franchise tag] is not a prohibitive number. Now, certainly, we would like to get the long-term contract to give us as much latitude as possible."

It is undetermined whether that latitude pertains to going after 49ers receiver Terrell Owens.

The agent for the four-time Pro Bowl performer apparently missed a deadline to file the necessary paperwork for him to become a free agent and remains under contract with the 49ers for the next three seasons.

But trading for a big-name player doesn't fit the Ravens' style. Giving up draft picks or a top defensive starter - which may be needed to trigger a deal - typically wouldn't interest the Ravens.

Still, the situation could end up too enticing to pass on if San Francisco would be willing to trade Owens for just the Ravens' second-round draft pick (51st overall).

When asked about a trade for Owens, general manager Ozzie Newsome declined to address any players currently under contract. "If there is a player that is available whether he's a free agent or by trade that we feel can improve our football team, we will pursue him," he said.

The Ravens' current pursuits have been centered on retaining their own players before Wednesday, the start of free agency.

Although the Ravens are not expected to make a big splash early in free agency, they have enough cap space to pursue five starters who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents (receiver Marcus Robinson, center Mike Flynn, offensive tackle Orlando Brown, linebacker Adalius Thomas and kicker Matt Stover) or fill those voids with quality talent.


"We should be able to get what we need to get done in free agency," Billick said.

Their window of cap prosperity shouldn't end for another two to three years. That means the Ravens have the freedom to name McAlister as their franchise player again if they can't reach a long-term deal this year.

Teams can name only one franchise player each year, but the Ravens can use the tag on McAlister as many times as they want, although it can become costly.

With each consecutive tag, the player's salary increases by 20 percent. That means McAlister would make $8.1 million in 2005 and $9.7 million in 2006 if he continues to be named the Ravens' franchise player.

"We could use it again next year if we have to," Newsome said. "We could create ways to do it."

Said Mitch Frankel, McAlister's agent: "I would think at some point any organization would have to determine the value of one-year contracts to that player. Fortunately, the Ravens have cap room and hopefully they'll continue to have cap room. But at some point, it becomes more and more difficult."


For now, the Ravens would be content with McAlister playing under the tag this season.

"It's a win-win if indeed that happens from the standpoint that Chris makes a very good amount of money that's equitable for his position and we kind of pay as we go," Billick said. "If we can get a long-term deal once we see what the market is, it's in everybody's best interest, and everybody sees that."

NOTES: Linebacker Ray Lewis is expected to undergo additional tests on his right shoulder Monday before a decision is made about surgery. ... The Ravens have tendered contracts to their eight restricted free agents (guard Bennie Anderson, offensive tackle Damion Cook, defensive end Marques Douglas, linebacker Ed Hartwell, long snapper Joe Maese, center Casey Rabach, fullback Alan Ricard and cornerback Ray Walls). It is believed only Hartwell got a middle tender (one year, $1.38 million), meaning the Ravens would have the right to match any offers to retain him or accept a first-round draft choice in exchange for him.

Salary cap room

The Ravens have the fourth-most salary cap room in the league. Here are the top five along with the number of their unrestricted free agents who will hit the market Wednesday:

Team UFAs Under cap


Eagles 8 $22.6M

Vikings 5 $19.1M

Cardinals 6 $16.9M

Ravens 12 $16.2M

Cowboys 4 $15.5M

Source: ESPN