Time could be running out on the Ravens

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco's contract takes a big jump after the 2015 season and could limit the team's ability to make moves before the 2016 season.

Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis has said more than once in the past two years that the window of opportunity is getting narrower for the Ravens.

He was probably alluding to the age of some of the older players on the team, but there needs to be a sense of urgency for winning big in 2015. Besides the age factor, the Ravens have more than the usual prominent number of players who will be unrestricted free agents after this season.


And then there is the Joe Flacco factor.

The seventh-year quarterback's base salary goes from $4 million in 2015 to $18 million in 2016, with $28.55 million counting against the salary cap, twice as much as the upcoming season.


The Ravens had to expect they would restructure Flacco's deal after 2015, but it won't be easy. Besides the strong won-loss record and playoff appearances, Flacco is still represented by agent Joe Linta, who likes to create as much drama as the latest reality TV show. He likes the big time and isn't afraid to conduct a national whirlwind tour using every media outlet.

That's part of the reason for the sense of urgency in 2015. Every team wants to win as a reward to their fan base, but time might be running out sooner for the Ravens. A year ago, coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees did a masterful job of preserving older players like outside linebackers Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and inside linebacker Daryl Smith.

Suggs and Dumervil were the team's top two pass rushers and the Ravens had two other capable replacements in Pernell McPhee and Courtney Upshaw. But McPhee has signed with the Chicago Bears and Upshaw, who came on as a pass rusher at the end of last season, will be one of the team's unrestricted free agents after this season.

Suggs is 32, Dumervil is 31 and Daryl Smith is 33. Two other high profile veterans are receiver Steve Smith, 35, and defensive end Chris Canty, 32. In some cases, the Ravens are rolling the dice bringing back some of these players this year much less in 2016.

It's safe to assume Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has already started talks with several players who have a year remaining on their contract, but there could be significant fallout.

In 2016, guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele will become free agents, and those would be tremendous losses. The Ravens would be able to pay one big money, but probably not two.

Right now, Yanda might be the best guard in the NFL and Osemele isn't too far behind even though there are still questions about whether his back will hold up for the rest of his career.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith, despite missing half of the season with a foot injury, still had a breakout year in 2014 and will become a free agent in 2016.


Those are three of the team's top players. There is more. The Ravens usually have one of the NFL's top kicking games every year, but guess who are free agents in 2016? Place kicker Justin Tucker and punter Sam Koch.

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Even some of the more high profile backups are scheduled for free agency including linebacker Albert McClellan and cornerback Asa Jackson. And don't forget Steve Smith, he orginally said he only wanted to play two years, and this season will be his second in Baltimore.

Flacco is a key for the team's future, and maybe he'll restructure and give the Ravens some cap relief like Pro Bowl quarterback Tom Brady has done in New England, or other highly paid players in other towns.

It's hard to understand why these contracts are so back loaded because everyone knows most of the final year or two will be voided. It does make the agents look good, but achieves little else.

And in some cases like former Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, the player wants the team to honor the original commitment.

Regardless, there will be some drama in the future for the Ravens. Let's not call it rebuilding, but there could be some extensive face lifting. Newsome could take away some suspense by getting some players to sign extensions before the end of this season, and the Ravens could do themselves a favor by winning big in 2015.


They might not have as much of a chance in 2016.