INDIANAPOLIS — Breaking from their usual free-agent playbook, the Ravens this week made a "really aggressive" contract offer to Kelechi Osemele, hoping to keep the young offensive lineman off the open market, and viewing him as their potential left tackle moving forward.
"It's a really aggressive deal. I think it shows a lot of respect for K.O. It shows them that we really want him here and I hope he takes it," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Thursday on the second full day of the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. "I hope he says, 'You know what? I know what the Ravens are all about. I know they believed in me. I know what kind of football they want to play and I feel like I'm a part of this thing for a long time like Marshal Yanda's done.'"
Osemele's decision could have wide-ranging implications for the Ravens ahead of the March 9 start of free agency. If the Ravens are able to finalize the deal — and it would be surprising at this point if Osemele opts to eschew free agency altogether — it would obviously take them out of the market for a left tackle with the sixth overall pick in April's draft.
It also would likely mean the end of Eugene Monroe's tumultuous tenure as the Ravens' starting left tackle. Monroe is set to enter the third year of a five-year, $37.5 million contract extension that he signed in 2014. Monroe has played reasonably well when on the field, but he has missed 16 games since the start of the 2014 season. He started and finished just four of 16 games last year.
If the Ravens cut Monroe immediately, they'd gain just over $2 million of salary cap savings. If they make him a post-June 1 cut, they'd save $6.5 million.
With Monroe out, Osemele started the final four games at left tackle after playing mostly left guard over his first three seasons.
"I think we'll figure it out, but I like him at left tackle," Harbaugh said of Osemele. "That's something we talked about from the day he got drafted here, that he could play left tackle and then the opportunity came up to put him here. But we still have Eugene. He's still in our program. We'll put the best five guys out there and build the best offensive line that we can, no matter who is here and who is not here. But as a coach, I really want K.O. here. I hope he feels the same way."
Harbaugh didn't give specifics on the Ravens' offer, which represents a departure of sorts from the organization's usual free-agent strategy of sitting back and allowing its own unrestricted free agents to test their value on the open market.
According to the NFL Network, the Ravens offered to make Osemele their second-highest-paid offensive player, behind only quarterback Joe Flacco. The Ravens' second-highest-paid offensive player is right guard Marshal Yanda, who signed a four-year, $32 million extension last October. Yanda currently makes just under $8 million per season, a number that Osemele, one of the top pending free-agent offensive linemen, now figures to top.
"He's the top guy in a sense of what the cost is going to be for sure," Harbaugh said of Osemele. "He's the highest-priced free agent we've got. How high priced remains to be seen. That's what we have to figure out. I'm sure he's shopping [our offer]."
The Ravens currently have the second-least salary cap space in the NFL. But their aggressiveness in negotiations with Osemele, and comments from Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome over the past couple of days, indicate that the team is confident that it will create the necessary cap flexibility in the weeks ahead.
Newsome acknowledged Wednesday that the team will have to make some tough salary cap decisions before March 9. The Ravens have several veterans that are candidates to be let go in cost-cutting moves, including Monroe, tight end Dennis Pitta, defensive end Chris Canty, middle linebacker Daryl Smith, cornerback Kyle Arrington and safety Kendrick Lewis.
"We're going to manage our money whatever way we need to to have the best team we can," said Harbaugh, downplaying the difficulty of the pending roster decisions. "We have cap room this year, believe it or not. There's more flexibility in our cap this year than we've had. This year, from a coaching standpoint, we're in a better position to do business than we have in the past. I'm excited about that."
The most obvious way to create cap space for the Ravens remains to rework Flacco's deal, which carries a $28.55 million cap hit. Ravens senior vice president of administration Pat Moriarty will meet with Flacco's agent, Joe Linta, this week to start discussions about a new deal for the quarterback.
Harbaugh said that he'd be "surprised and disappointed" if the two sides can't agree on a reworked deal.
"I think Ozzie said that we could make it work, but it's better if we can get a deal done obviously and spread the money around a little bit," Harbaugh said. "I don't think Joe is talking about taking any pay cuts that I'm aware of, though that would be great if he would. … We want him to be our quarterback and we want him to be here for the long term. Joe knows that. Joe wants to be a Raven. He wants to be here for the long term. To me, this is one of those things where your quarterback becomes after a while your partner. He becomes part of the organization, part of us, part of who we are coaching staff-wise. It's just a very unique relationship in sports. That's who Joe is for us."
Harbaugh, meanwhile, gave a glowing report on Flacco's recovery from left knee surgery in December. The quarterback, who was hurt late in the Ravens' Nov. 22 victory over the St. Louis Rams, had both his ACL and MCL repaired. The hope remains that he'll be ready for training camp.
"I've heard he's attacking his knee [rehab] as well or better than anybody they'd ever seen," Harbaugh said. "He's really getting after it. He's having no setbacks and he's just working his tail off."