INDIANAPOLIS -- Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome didn't sound optimistic yesterday that All-Pro linebacker Adalius Thomas would return to the team next season.
Thomas, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent later this week, could have been kept out of the free-agent market with a franchise tag, but that would have cost the Ravens a one-year, $7.2 million contract (which is the average of the five highest-paid linebackers in the NFL). But by Thursday's deadline, the Ravens declined to make the move.
Using the franchise tag often causes animosity between a player - who might feel cheated out of what could be an even bigger payday - and the team.
"I think it was a fair decision. I think it was fair for the organization and it was fair for AD," Newsome said speaking at the NFL scouting combine, where the Ravens and the rest of the league are evaluating hundreds of college players during the next few days in anticipation of the draft in April.
"From the time that I retired as a player," said Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end, "in every instance I've told every player, I can revert back to being a player myself. If you get a chance to make a lot, you should go and make a lot because your shelf life is so small."
Last season, Thomas, 29, a seven-year veteran, had 106 tackles and 11 sacks on the NFL's best defense. At 6 feet 2, 270 pounds, he has been a versatile performer in defensive coordinator Rex Ryan's complex defensive scheme.
Asked about the chances of re-signing Thomas, Newsome said: "I don't know. I'm hearing what's going to happen in his market and it's amazing if the market heads in that direction because of the amount of [salary] cap room."
The Ravens have little room under the cap, about $3 million. But other teams, including Cleveland, where Browns general manager Phil Savage used to be in the Ravens' front office, and the 49ers, where San Francisco coach Mike Nolan used to be the Ravens' defensive coordinator, both have more than $24 million each.
Newsome said his club's current situation, with defensive lineman Jarret Johnson, offensive tackle Tony Pashos and running back Musa Smith all scheduled for unrestricted free agency, is similar to last year's. In 2006, defenders Tony Weaver and Maake Kemoeatu, punter Dave Zastudil and tailback Chester Taylor were attractive free agents, and all signed elsewhere.
"Right out the gate, they were all gone. We were fortunate to get [linebacker] Bart Scott back," Newsome said.
"The way we approach it, we come to a threshold to what we feel the player's value is in Baltimore and when we get beyond that, we don't mind them going out the door," he added.