Signing future free agents like Ravens nose tackle Brandon Williams is tougher than ever

This would seemingly be the perfect time for the Ravens to strike a deal on an extension with nose tackle Brandon Williams, who is entering the final season of his rookie contract.

The Ravens have about $7 million in available salary cap space, and could create more in the weeks ahead depending on what they do with tight end Dennis Pitta and left tackle Eugene Monroe.


While Ravens coach John Harbaugh said the team isn't done in free agency, there aren't really any big-ticket items left and the team appears far more likely to sit back and consider other team's post-draft roster cuts while protecting the third or fourth-round compensatory pick that they may have gained after losing Courtney Upshaw.

Along with continuing their preparations for next month's draft, it certainly would make sense for the Ravens to spend some time trying to make sure that one of the game's best nose tackles remains in Baltimore beyond this year.

The issue, as Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti acknowledged last week, is that both sides have to be motivated to get a deal done, and convincing players to eschew free agency is getting harder and harder.

The annual rise in the salary cap and as a result, free agent contracts, are convincing arguments for many players, especially ones who are just a year away from hitting the open market, to not sign contract extensions with their current teams.

"I would love to, but the agents know that the prices are going up," Bisciotti said when asked whether the team is interested in extending the contracts of Williams and fellow 2017 free agent Rick Wagner this offseason. "So the agents are advising these guys, 'Don't sign a contract now, get to free agency.' "

By all accounts, Williams, a 27-year-old who was the Ravens' third-round pick in 2013 out of Missouri Southern, loves being a Raven. On the field, he's on the cusp of being a Pro Bowl selection and he's already one of the team's defensive leaders. Off the field, he's one of the organization's more active players in the community.

A contract extension from the Ravens would give Williams and his young family even more security and allow him to have an even greater impact in the community.

But if you're Williams, how do you ignore the contracts that other interior defensive linemen got earlier this month?

Former Denver Broncos Malik Jackson signed a six-year, $85.5 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He and Williams are different types of players, so perhaps this isn't the best comp. Nose tackle Damon Harrison is a better one and he reached a five-year agreement worth $46.5 million to go from the New York Jets to the Giants.

Just imagine what Williams could get if he has a strong 2016 season and the salary cap goes up even more next year.

As Bisciotti pointed out, it's not hard to see why players want to wait until they hit free agency to at least see what's out there. Bisciotti certainly didn't blame the team's own top unrestricted free agent, offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele, for signing a five-year, $58.5 million deal with the Oakland Raiders despite the Ravens' attempt to keep him.

"Could you imagine if Olivier Vernon had signed an extension with Miami? He probably would have been thrilled  with $10 million a year. Then you see [he got $17 million from the Giants], and it's like, 'Oh my God,' " Bisciotti said. "But they had just spent the money on [Ndamukong] Suh, and we had just spent the money on [Marshal] Yanda. Let's face it, if Yanda retires, K.O. is still with us. Interesting enough, if you go back to Yanda, we picked him in the third round after we took Ben Grubbs in the first round. And when they both came up in free agency, we let Grubbs go and we had to pick between them. We've had to do that twice, and Yanda has come out on the winning end of that two times in his career. It's kind of ironic that we've lost a Pro Bowl, or ascending Pro Bowl guard twice in Ben Grubbs and Kelechi."

The Ravens don't want to lose an ascending Pro Bowl nose tackle either, but they know the reality. Annually dealing with a relatively tight salary cap situation, there's not much that they can do if a player like Williams gets to the open market, which is more attractive to players than ever.

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