The Ravens are preparing to make their first significant roster moves of the offseason which will include releasing cornerback Chris Carr and wide receiver Lee Evans, and placing the franchise tag on Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, according to team sources.
All three moves, which could become official as early as Friday, were expected since the beginning of the offseason.
Carr had fallen far down the cornerback depth chart, and Evans, who was acquired before the year to provide quarterback Joe Flacco with a deep threat, had only four catches during the regular season and couldn't hang on to a potential game-winning touchdown pass in the last minute of the AFC championship loss against the New England Patriots. Their pending releases allow them to hit the open market ahead of the March 13 beginning to free agency and open up nearly $9 million under the 2012 salary cap.
The Ravens have prioritized signing Rice to a long-term contract extension this offseason, but both sides understand that the negotiations will take a significant amount of time and the franchise tag was ultimately inevitable. The Ravens have until Monday to officially apply the tag to Rice, which has been a precursor in the past to several of the team's other franchised players to a long-term contract extension.
Once it becomes official, the Ravens will have until July 15 to work out a contract extension with Rice or he'll play the season under the franchise tag, which carries a $7.7 million salary for running backs.
Meanwhile, the release of Carr and Evans would give the Ravens a little more flexibility in trying to accomplish their offseason goals, which include signing Rice and Flacco to contract extensions and re-signing Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs.
"We will make some moves between now and March 13 to release players," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said last week at the NFL Combine . "We already had one player [Ricky Williams] that has decided that he is going to retire. We already have a strategy in place that will allow us to have the ability to sign players that we want to sign and to be able to franchise Ray if we have to if we get to that. We have a plan in place."
Carr, 28, would have been owed $2.5 million next season , and carried a salary caphit of $3.45 million, a significant number when you consider that the veteran was inactive for eight of the Ravens' 18 games this past season. Evans, who turns 31 next month, would have carried a salary cap hit of just over $5.5 million. That includesa $1-million roster bonus that would have been owed ifEvans was still on the Ravens' roster on March 18.
The expectation is that the Ravens will also release cornerback Domonique Foxworth (Western Tech/Maryland), but it's unclear if a final decision has been made on his status. Newsome said last week that he is hoping to meet with Foxworth soon.
Foxworth, a 28-year-old who has played in two games over the past two seasons after tearing his anterior cruciate ligamentbefore the 2010 campaign, is due to make $5.6 million next season. However, he is still having some issues with his knee, and he also could decide to retire.
Evans' release means that his lasting image as a Raven was getting the ball separated from him by Patriots rookie cornerback Sterling Moore. The catch, coupled by the extra point, would have given the Ravens a 27-23 lead with 27 seconds remaining. But he couldn't hold on and two plays later, Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have likely forced overtime.
"There's really not a whole lot to say about it. It was an opportunity for us to go to the Super Bowl, and I let it go," said Evans, who had his best game as a Raven to that point, catching three balls for 39 yards. "Honestly, the most disappointing part of all this is that I feel personally that I let everybody down. This is the greatest team that I've been on, and I feel like I let everybody down. Yeah, it's on my shoulders."
The drop capped a disappointing season for Evans who was acquired from the Buffalo Bills in August for a fourth-round draft pick. Evans missed seven games for the Ravens because of an ankle injury and was then held without a catch in six of the nine regular season contests he played in.
Ravens officials have talked since the season ended about the importance of adding another receiver to pair with veteran Anquan Boldin and youngsters Torrey Smith, Tandon Doss and LaQuan Williams, further cementing the belief that Evans would be cut.
The emergence of the Ravens' young cornerbacks, along with an injury-plagued 2011 season, spelled the end of Carr's three-year tenure in Baltimore. Carr didn't immediately return a request for comment but he thanked the organization and the city on his Twitter feed Thursday afternoon.
"Love the team and the city," Carr tweeted. "It's a business. I think it was the best for both parties. Talked to Ozzie and [coach John Harbaugh] today much respect ... I will miss my teammates the most, boy we had fun!"
The veteran was the Ravens' best cornerback and started all 16 games in 2010, and was rewarded with a four-year, $14-million deal last July which included a $3.8-million signing bonus.
However, he missed four of the Ravens' first six games with a hamstring injury, and then missed three more late in the season with a back injury, all while Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams and rookie Jimmy Smith emerged as the team's top three corners.
Carr, who had three pass defenses all season, was even a healthy inactive for the Ravens' playoff opener against the Houston Texans, a prelude to Thursday's news .