Before Steve McNair has taken a snap with the Ravens - which will happen at today's minicamp - speculation has begun about how long the veteran quarterback will stay with the team.
Judging by the structure of his five-year contract, McNair is expected to play the next three seasons for the Ravens under his current agreement. After that point, escalating salaries and cap numbers will probably force the Ravens to either restructure his deal or release him.
McNair, however, is not expected to be cut in a salary cap purge after the 2007 season because team officials say there is not going to be one.
Team president Dick Cass clarified the comments he made to fans at the Ravens' spring festival last month, saying yesterday that the team will not have to part ways with multiple starters anytime soon because of cap issues.
"We are not expecting or planning for a salary cap purge in 2008," Cass said. "It is true that if we continue to spend cash over the cap the way we have over the last couple of years, we will be tight in terms of our ability to be active in the free agency market in 2008."
Cass said he never insinuated a two-year window for the Ravens when he told fans May 21, "When you go over the cap for three years like we have, we probably can only go one more year. Unless we restructure contracts, we won't be in a situation in '08 that we were in '02 - but it will be tight."
The Ravens have been spending $10 million over the salary cap in bonuses the past three seasons, which includes the $11 million owed to McNair on Sept. 1 (what is essentially his signing bonus).
So if the Ravens expect to be in satisfactory cap shape through 2008, when will that overspending force them into major cost-cutting decisions?
"It's not in the near future," Cass said. "We are not in the 2002 situation. We have the ability to create cap room if we choose to do so by restructuring contracts."
That means McNair and the other core players should be safe for at least the next three seasons.
According to figures obtained from the NFL Players Association, McNair will earn $1 million in base salary this year. After he receives a $1 million option bonus next spring, his salaries jump to $3 million in 2007 and $4 million in 2008.
The total payout for those first three years is $20 million. As a result, his cap numbers over that time are manageable ($3.2 million in 2006, $5.45 million in 2007 and $6.45 million 2008).
His contract likely needs to be addressed after the 2008 season, when his salary rises to $6 million for the final two years of his deal. The Ravens probably won't be able to handle his $8.45 million cap figure in 2009 and 2010, which means they will have to rework his deal or release him.
McNair, who would be 36 heading into the 2009 season, refuses to gauge how many years he has left.
"When you pass 10 years, you take one year at a time," said McNair, who is entering his 12th season. "I feel like if I can go through this year clean and healthy, then I can play each year the same way with the same mentality."
If the Ravens keep McNair as their starter for the next three years as expected, they would face an interesting predicament with Kyle Boller.
His contract runs through 2007, paying him $1.6 million and $797,500 over the final two years. With Boller now relegated to a backup role, it becomes a tougher decision for the Ravens whether to try to keep the unproven 2003 first-round pick or cut their losses.
The Ravens have invested $6.68 million (bonuses and salaries) in Boller over his first three seasons, receiving an 18-16 overall record in return. They also gave up two picks (a first-rounder in 2004 and a second-rounder in 2003) to move up in the '03 draft to select Boller.
Coach Brian Billick disputed the notion that the acquisition of McNair indicates the Ravens have given up on Boller.
"I don't know that it's not working," Billick said. "Conventional thinking tells you that we're going to need Kyle Boller [at some point this season], and I have no doubt that he'll be ready to do that. I also know Kyle's professional enough and smart enough to utilize Steve as a resource, to tap into the perspective that Steve has."