Ravens officials have returned home after a week-long stay in Indianapolis at the NFL Scouting Combine with plenty on their to-do list. In fact, aside from the draft in April, these next eight days might be the busiest of the offseason for the Ravens.
Here is a glance at what will/needs to happen before free agency and the new league year opens at 4 p.m. on March 9:
Officially franchise kicker Justin Tucker: Tucker's agent, Robert Roche, announced on Twitter last Thursday that the Ravens will franchise his client. A day earlier, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome acknowledged that the $4.572 million tag was very much in play for Tucker. The Ravens haven't officially announced that they are using it on their standout kicker, but it's viewed as a formality at this point. When it becomes official, the Ravens will have until July 15 to sign Tucker to a long-term extension or he'll play the season under the tag.
Finalize new deal for quarterback Joe Flacco: All signs remain good that the Ravens and Flacco will be able to agree to a new contract for the quarterback that will lower his $28.55 million salary cap number for 2016. The Ravens and Flacco's agent, Joe Linta, spoke again yesterday and more talks are on tap for today. A new deal was reasonably close last week, so it's unclear what has been the holdup. However, optimism remains that this will get done ahead of the start of free agency.
Make final call on running back Trent Richardson: The former first-round pick is due in Baltimore by Wednesday to talk to team officials and possibly work out for the team, and take a physical. The Ravens have shown a willingness to give Richardson another chance after he was out of the NFL all of last year. Assuming all goes well with the physical and medical testing, Richardson should join a crowded running back group that includes Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Terrance West (Towson), Lorenzo Taliaferro and Terrence Magee.
Make roster cuts: Newsome acknowledged that team officials have to make some tough decisions soon. That is the case whether the Ravens reach a new deal with Flacco or not. But if they don't, they'll obviously have to open up even more salary cap space in other ways. The most obvious move is declining the 2016 option on veteran defensive end Chris Canty, which will create just over $2 million of salary cap space. Other Ravens that could be in danger include tight end Dennis Pitta, left tackle Eugene Monroe, middle linebacker Daryl Smith, cornerback Kyle Arrington and safeties Will Hill, Kendrick Lewis and Matt Elam.
Take one more shot at pending unrestricted free agents: Starting Monday, teams can start contacting the representatives of pending unrestricted free agents to express interest in a player and start discussing contract terms. Deals cannot officially be executed until 4 p.m. on March 9, but the top free agents will mostly know where they're headed before that. The Ravens haven't traditionally been aggressive in trying to woo players during the "legal" tampering window. Their focus will likely be on their own top unrestricted free agent: offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele. The Ravens' other pending unrestricted free agents are quarterbacks Jimmy Clausen and Matt Schaub, wide receiver Chris Givens, tight end Allen Reisner, linebackers Courtney Upshaw, Albert McClellan and Chris Carter, cornerback Shareece Wright and long snapper Morgan Cox. McClellan, Wright and Cox appear to be the most likely from that group to return.
Make salary offers to restricted and exclusive rights free agents: This has to be done by 4 p.m. on March 9. The team has 12 exclusive rights free agents, a group that includes West, wide receivers Jeremy Butler and Daniel Brown and guard Ryan Jensen, and just about all of them are expected back. Those players can either sign the Ravens' contract tender or not play, so these deals are formalities. The Ravens have four restricted free agents: wide receivers Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown, tight end Chase Ford and safety Brynden Trawick. It's possible, if not probable, that Brown, Ford and Trawick are all not tendered a contract, given that the lowest tender costs $1.67 million. The Ravens could nontender the three players and then try to sign them to lesser deals. As for Aiken, the Ravens need to decide whether to place a low tender on him ($1.67 million) or a second-round tender ($2.55 million). If they use the low tender, they'd be at risk of losing Aiken without getting anything in return. The second-round tender would protect the Ravens from losing Aiken, because it's unlikely that another team would give up its second-round pick for the wide receiver.