On the first day of free agency, the Ravens were merely spectators, watching three starters land big-money contracts elsewhere, including All-Pro outside linebacker Adalius Thomas.
In a surprising turn of events, Thomas, 29, chose New England over the San Francisco 49ers and will sign with the Patriots today once he passes a physical, an unnamed league executive told the Boston Herald last night.
It's expected that Thomas will become one of the highest-paid defensive players in the NFL. Considered the most versatile player in Ravens history, he will be the only starter not returning to the Ravens' defense, which ranked No. 1 in the league last season.
Thomas is considered a prototypical fit for the Patriots' 3-4 defense and the creative schemes of coach Bill Belichick. It had been assumed that Thomas would rejoin former Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who is the head coach of the 49ers.
Terms of the deal were not available.
"Thomas is done there," the source told the Boston Herald.
Along with Thomas, offensive tackle Tony Pashos and fullback Ovie Mughelli left the Ravens for lucrative deals.
Pashos became one of the first free agents to reach a deal yesterday, agreeing on a five-year, $24 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Mughelli became the NFL's highest-paid fullback, signing a six-year, $18 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons that includes a $5 million signing bonus.
With less salary cap room than most NFL teams - they have approximately $11 million - the Ravens could do little but watch their former players strike it rich.
The size of the deals for Pashos and Mughelli raised eyebrows because the Ravens considered them solid but not spectacular starters.
Pashos, 26, became a full-time starter only midway through the 2005 season but exceeded expectations last season because of his workmanlike effort.
Pashos is expected to receive a signing bonus around $10 million, according to ESPN.
Reached last night, Pashos described leaving the Ravens as "bittersweet."
"It's been such a great experience in Baltimore, and there are people there that molded me. I respect and love them so much, so it's hard to move on," Pashos said. "At the same time, this is another chapter in my life."
It is unknown how the Ravens will address their void at right tackle.
The easiest solution would be to promote former second-round pick Adam Terry to the starting lineup, but there are questions about his toughness. The Ravens could explore a thin free-agent market, but they might have to overpay for veterans such as Marc Colombo, Jon Stinchcomb or Todd Steussie.
There's less of a concern about the Ravens' fullback position because they could fill that spot with Justin Green (who won't be available until August after undergoing knee surgery), a less-expensive free agent (fullbacks typically don't command much) or a player in the draft.
Mughelli, 26, was a special teams player for most of his career until his role increased when coach Brian Billick took over the offense.
A powerfully built back, Mughelli was considered an inconsistent blocker by the Ravens. He surprised them with his pass-catching ability, making 21 receptions in the last nine games and scoring two touchdowns.
Mughelli, who made $721,000 last season with the Ravens, will earn $3 million per season, which surpasses the record-breaking deal signed by San Diego Chargers fullback Lorenzo Neal ($2.75 million a season) one day earlier.
"No words can describe how I feel right now. I'm overjoyed, elated, excited," Mughelli said. "The sides of my face hurt from smiling all day. I feel so blessed."
One possible replacement for Thomas could be Joey Porter, who was a salary-cap cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens are reportedly one of seven teams to express interest in the former Pro Bowl outside linebacker.
Porter is not expected to make to visit any team until next week.
The Ravens' first signing still could be running back Jamal Lewis, who was released Wednesday. Both sides appear willing to agree on a one-year deal.
But according to ESPN, the Ravens and the Denver Broncos have shown interest in trading for Buffalo running back Willis McGahee. It is unknown what the Bills are seeking in return.
McGahee is coming off a subpar season during which he rushed for 990 yards, the first time in three seasons he failed to top the 1,000-yard mark. If McGahee is traded, he will likely want an extension because he is entering the final year of his original five-year contract.
Plus, the release of running back Corey Dillon from the Patriots yesterday could intrigue the Ravens.
"We'd love to have talks with Baltimore," said Steve Feldman, Dillon's agent. "I know there will be some interest, and I'm sure they'll be touching base with us."
Sun reporter Mike Preston contributed to this article.
THREE RAVENS MOVING ON
ADALIUS THOMAS Set to sign with the Patriots after he passes physical.
TONY PASHOS Has five-year, $24 million deal with the Jaguars.
OVIE MUGHELLI Signs six-year, $18 million contract with the Falcons.