While looking toward future, Ravens need to take care of some business

If the Ravens aren't able to rework Joe Flacco's contract, how will they create much-needed cap space?

In the seven weeks since their disappointing 2015 season ended, the Ravens have been eerily quiet beyond a few additions to John Harbaugh's coaching staff. There has been no roster juggling and no move to free up much-needed salary cap space.

With the new league year and free agency set to begin two weeks from Wednesday, the Ravens are getting closer to having to make some decisions. But the front office's focus has been on preparing for the NFL draft, and team officials will be in Indianapolis this week to get their most extensive look at the top prospects.

The NFL's annual scouting combine will run through Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium. More than 300 draft-eligible players will participate in drills, workouts and interviews with teams and the media.

Beyond the pre-draft hype generated and the information gathered, the event serves to bring together people from all walks of the NFL. Team executives, coaches, scouts and agents gather in Indianapolis, setting the stage for trade talk and contract negotiations. Deals won't necessarily get done, but many seeds will be planted this week.

The Ravens have plenty of business to attend to and no shortage of questions to address during their week-long stay.

Who will catch their eye? The Ravens hold the sixth overall pick in the draft and could have as many as 10 selections after compensatory picks are awarded at next month's owner's meetings. Their holes are obvious. They need a wide receiver, a pass rusher, a defensive back and some clarity at left tackle.

This draft class is relatively thin on wide receivers but has plenty to offer elsewhere, especially on defense, where the Ravens are looking to add speed and playmakers. Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa, UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner, Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey and Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves head a dynamic group of defensive prospects.

Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley and Mississippi wide receiver Laquon Treadwell would fill needs on offense.

"There's going to be a minimum of three really good options for the Ravens at pick six," ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. said in a conference call Monday, playing down the possibility the Ravens could trade out of that spot. "I think there's going to be some big-time players staring them in the face."

A new deal for Flacco? When Ravens officials last met with Joe Flacco's agent, Joe Linta, at the scouting combine to discuss the quarterback's contract, it was under significantly different circumstances.

The Ravens were just weeks removed from winning the Super Bowl and Flacco, who had just capped a record-setting postseason, would soon be eligible for free agency. It was in Indianapolis where the Ravens and Flacco started talking about what became a then-record six-year, $120.6 million deal.

Three years later, the Ravens' chief negotiator, Pat Moriarty, and Linta will be back at the bargaining table out of necessity. Flacco carries a $28.55 million cap hit in 2016, a figure that would make it tough for the Ravens to make upgrades to a roster in need of them.

Flacco, who is rehabilitating a surgically repaired left knee, has said he'd be willing to rework his deal. Linta confirmed to The Baltimore Sun late Tuesday that he will meet with Ravens officials this week in Indianapolis.

With free agency starting March 9, the Ravens need the cap room and addressing Flacco's contract is the quickest way to get some. However, there are no guarantees the negotiations will go smoothly.

"A lot of it hinges on Flacco," said Joel Corry, a former NFL agent who writes about the salary cap and business matters for CBS Sports and National Football Post. "You can work around some things, but Flacco is the key. You have to work with Flacco. That's the major one."

Are salary cap cuts near? While other teams have been making roster moves the past couple of weeks, the Ravens have stood down. That has to change with the Ravens carrying the second-least salary cap space in the NFL.

The Ravens don't have a lot of obvious candidates to be cut. The contracts of tight end Dennis Pitta and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe make them more likely to be post-June 1 releases. Middle linebacker Daryl Smith, defensive end Chris Canty and cornerback Kyle Arrington could be in jeopardy, but jettisoning all three would create only about $6 million in cap space.

There has been some speculation about cornerback-turned safety Lardarius Webb, but team officials have spoken excitedly about his future at a new position, so indications are he'll be back.

The Ravens have to open salary cap space somewhere, and they need to do it before March 9. They could make some moves official this week.

Can they keep free agents? According to sources, the Ravens have been negotiating with a few of their unrestricted free agents in hopes of keeping them off the open market. One of the team's priorities is kicker Justin Tucker, who is expected to be given the franchise tag March 1 unless a long-term contract can be reached. Talks have been ongoing, but the coming franchise tag deadline and a potential face-to-face meeting this week with Tucker's agent, Robert Roche, could spur compromise.

Offensive guard-tackle Kelechi Osemele, arguably the team's top pending free agent, is probably out of the Ravens' price range. However, some of the team's second- and third-tier free agents, cornerback Shareece Wright, reserve linebacker Albert McClellan and long snapper Morgan Cox, are realistic targets for pre-free-agent deals.

This week would be a good week for Ozzie Newsome, Moriarty and company to start gaining some traction in contract talks

Will Newsome shed any light? Public comments from the Ravens general manager are rare, but Newsome will be behind the microphone today. The NFL asks teams to have either their head coach or general manager speak to reporters this week and Harbaugh did it last year, so it's Newsome's turn.

Newsome is too savvy and secretive to make any major headlines. Still, it will interesting to hear him address the urgency of the Ravens' salary cap situation, particularly in regard to Flacco and Tucker; his expected level of activity in free agency; and the team's draft outlook.

The progress of rehabbing players such as Flacco, running back Justin Forsett, wide receivers Steve Smith Sr. and Breshad Perriman, and rush linebacker Terrell Suggs will certainly be prominent topics.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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Combine primer

The Ravens go to the NFL scouting combine this week with a host of needs. Here are 10 players who will be candidates to fill them and are worth watching this week.

 

Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State: Not too long ago, he was viewed as the consensus No.1 overall pick. Now, some pundits think that he could fall to the Ravens at six overall. A strong showing this week – and he has all the physical tools to make that happen - could solidify his status near the top of the draft. Everybody is looking for pass rushers and Bosa might be the best this draft has to offer.

 

DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon: The Ravens have far bigger needs than defensive end, but if they stick to the "best-player available" philosophy that they constantly preach about, Buckner might be in play. At 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds, Buckner certainly passes the eye test, and he has a ton of ability. The Ravens, who love stockpiling defensive linemen, will undoubtedly take a long look.

 

Leonte Carroo, WR, Rutgers: Carroo, who dominated Maryland with 183 receiving yards in a November game, is one of the hot names in the draft after his Senior Bowl performance. Another good week could be enough to get him in the back end of the first round. Carroo, Texas Christian's Josh Doctson, Ohio State's Michael Thomas and Notre Dame's Will Fuller are potential second-day picks for Ravens.

 

Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech: The Baltimore native and the latest NFL prospect in a remarkable football family missed most of last season with a knee injury and he's not expected to be a full participant this week. His medical information will certainly be vetted, however. If he falls out of the first round, the cornerback-needy Ravens could pounce with their second pick.

 

Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida: He'd have to struggle this week to lose his position as the second best defensive back in the draft behind Florida State's Jalen Ramsey. Six overall might be a little early for Hargreaves, but he'd certainly be one of the guys that the Ravens look at if they move back a couple of spots in the first round. He's billed as a prospect who will be ready to step in and play immediately.

 

Reggie Ragland, MLB, Alabama: Lauded for his instincts, reliability and ability to go sideline-to-sideline, Ragland is sounding more and more like C.J. Mosley who the Ravens drafted in the first round two years ago. At some point, the Ravens need to find a successor to Daryl Smith. It seems unlikely that Ragland would be the pick this year, but general manager Ozzie Newsome certainly loves Alabama players.

 

Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State: An explosive athlete and a physical specimen, Ramsey should shine this week. He's already projected to go in the top three, so there's not much that he can do to improve his status. The Ravens would love to have a chance to select Ramsey, who some feel will wind up as an NFL safety. However, unless they trade up or Ramsey's stock drops, the Ravens are probably out of luck.

 

Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky: Spence was the talk of the Senior Bowl after he displayed strong pass-rushing skills. His performance this week in interviews with teams will be every bit as scrutinized as his work on the field. Spence started at Ohio State but transferred to Eastern Kentucky after he was banned from the Big 10 due to repeated failed drug tests. He's talented, but there are red flags here.

 

Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame: Mississippi's Laremy Tunsil is considered the top left tackle in the draft and he could go No.1 to the Tennessee Titans. Stanley is viewed as a safe pick, because he can step in and start immediately. With Eugene Monroe's ongoing injury woes and the unlikelihood that the Ravens will be able to re-sign Kelechi Osemele, Stanley will be a consideration at six.

Laquon Treadwell, WR, Mississippi: His decision not to run the 40-yard dash at the combine adds even more questions. If he ran and posted a good time, most pundits believe he'd be a top-10 pick The Ravens appear to be a long shot to take a wide receiver in the first round for a second straight year, but a dynamic performance this week by Treadwell would give them something to think about.

—Jeff Zrebiec

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