To market

The themes of the stories in a newspaper's sports section in December tell you all you need to know about that city's NFL season.

If the hometown team is rolling into the playoffs, the talk is about playing for home-field advantage, bye weeks and resting the stars. If it's a bubble team, then the stories try to figure out all the playoff scenarios and tiebreakers.


But if your team is like the Ravens, then the attention turns to the offseason - namely the draft and free agency.

We started looking at the draft last week and, as a result of Sunday's loss to Miami, the Ravens moved up in the draft pecking order - likely somewhere between the fifth and eighth positions.


So, how about those free agents?

If you peruse Web sites that track the free-agent market, you'll find that, as usual, there are some Pro Bowl names, and among them there are a few that will probably be re-signed by their current teams or possibly be slapped with a franchise tag. Others have anti-franchise tag language in their contracts, such as New England Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel.

Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss will also be an unrestricted free agent, but are the Patriots going to let him go after this season? Samuel is also an unrestricted free agent, but can New England possibly keep them both, considering the salary cap ramifications? Some of this is a guessing game, but the best guess is that Moss stays and Samuel goes.

Other Pro Bowl types on the road to free agency at the moment include safety Bob Sanders and tight end Dallas Clark from Indianapolis, Kansas City defensive end Jared Allen, Tennessee defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs, Pittsburgh guard Alan Faneca and Dallas running back Julius Jones.

If you're one of those folks who think the Ravens should have a veteran quarterback on their shopping list, don't get too hopeful. The top ones who may be available are Chicago's Rex Grossman and Oakland's Daunte Culpepper. Also on the list is Sunday's winning quarterback, Miami's Cleo Lemon. Cleveland's Derek Anderson, a former Raven, is a restricted free agent.

The Ravens have linebacker Terrell Suggs coming up as an unrestricted free agent. Guard Jason Brown, their most consistent and durable offensive lineman throughout the season, is a restricted free agent.

Considering that the Ravens' cornerback situation has been terribly exposed and there are concerns about Samari Rolle's return, the free agent I find intriguing is Seattle's Marcus Trufant, who has a career-high seven interceptions this season and has missed just two games in five seasons. He may have franchise tag written all over him, though.

Of course, the Ravens' salary cap circumstances will dictate how aggressive they can be in free agency. Plus, Baltimore is usually cautious coming out of the gate when the free agency chase starts, preferring to let the marketplace settle down. It'll be interesting to see whether what could be a four-win season changes past practice.