The Ravens don't sound inclined to go past a certain financial threshold in their contract talks with free agent Torrey Smith, a stance dictated by a lack of salary cap flexibility and a wariness of overpaying for a wide receiver.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti referenced the Miami Dolphins' five-year, $60 million contract with inconsistent wide receiver Mike Wallace as a cautionary tale. Wallace hasn't produced to the level the Dolphins hoped for when they invested $30 million in guaranteed money, including an $11 million signing bonus.
"The difference between what we can pay Torrey and what he gets on the open market ... Mike Wallace got $10 million [$12 million annually], I don't think anybody thinks that was a good deal," Bisciotti said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon at the Ravens' training complex. "And so there is always a team that has lots of money that wants to bring in playmakers and those guys are going to get those deals. We're just going to have to take it on the chin and move on."
Preliminary contract negotiations between Smith's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and Ravens management haven't come close to a deal, according to sources, but both sides are motivated to work out a financial compromise. Smith has made it clear he wants to remain with the Ravens, but it looks like he could make a lot more money by leaving.
"Let's be frank: Do you hope that Torrey doesn't break the bank out in the open market so we can get him for our number? That's a hard thing to say," Bisciotti said. "I care about the kid. I want him to maximize his earnings. At the same time, the more successful he is doing that, the less successful we are at retaining him.
"I don't like to stand up here and say we're rooting against the guy, but we have to find a number. Some of the numbers that are thrown out there quite frankly we can't match. We don't have that kind of space. There's a lot of teams out there that don't spend to the cap and we always do. I'm always envious of the team."
Drafted in the second round out of Maryland in 2011, Smith has established himself as a pure deep threat. However, he hasn't emerged as a Pro Bowl wide receiver. He got off to a slow start last season and finished with 49 receptions for 767 yards and a career-high 11 touchdowns as veteran Steve Smith emerged as the Ravens' top wide receiver.
Now that Smith's four-year, $3.389 million rookie contract that included a $964,896 signing bonus has expired, he's set to become an unrestricted free agent March 10.
"We have a history of retaining our players, especially players that have been productive," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "But also we have a history of allowing our players to go out and maximize themselves in the market and go and playing for other teams. Where that lies with Torrey, we'll find out sometime between now and the opening of the league year."