If the Ravens don't use the franchise tag on Adalius Thomas next week, the All-Pro linebacker is still hopeful about returning to the team as a free agent.
"The market sets itself every year. Hopefully, Baltimore will step up and get the deal done so I can retire a Baltimore Raven," Thomas told ESPN yesterday. "But it's still a business. They're going to do what's best for them, and I've got to do what is best for me."
The chances of Thomas returning to the Ravens will diminish greatly once he becomes a free agent March 2. Other interested teams - such as San Francisco, New England, Cleveland and Green Bay - have more salary cap room than the Ravens and can offer Thomas substantially more in a long-term contract.
Thomas, who will turn 30 before next season, is likely looking at a contract that includes at least a $12 million signing bonus.
The Ravens could keep Thomas by using the franchise tag on him, which essentially takes him off the free-agent market with a one-year, $7.2 million tender (the average of the five highest-paid linebackers in the league). The deadline to do so is Feb. 22.
General manager Ozzie Newsome said Wednesday that the team has not decided whether to franchise Thomas.
The biggest hurdle to using the tag could be the Ravens' salary-cap situation. They are reportedly less than $3 million under the cap and are expected to make just one move to clear more space.
The Ravens could create $8.3 million in cap room by cutting running back Jamal Lewis before he receives a $5 million roster bonus on March 3.
That still might not be enough cap room, considering the Ravens have to address their needs at running back, offensive tackle and in the draft.
Whether Thomas returns or not, he predicted the Ravens only have a short window to win another Super Bowl with the current core of players.
"With this team, I think you have a one-to-two year window tops because you have older guys - like Jonathan Ogden, Ray [Lewis] and Steve McNair - who are the key guys," Thomas told ESPN.