A little lost in the shuffle this week amidst 40-yard dash times and bench press repetitions was some of the news surrounding a few of the Baltimore Ravens’ most notable free-agents-to-be. Big time starters such as: Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, and Ben Grubbs are all undergoing major contract talks that will shape the Ravens team of the future.
The franchise will surely have a few tough decisions to make over the coming weeks as the start-date of free agency on March 13th draws near. With some of the above mentioned starters looking for their contract extensions, it could hinder the Ravens’ abilities to retain players such as: Jarret Johnson, Jameel McClain, Tom Zbikowski, and others who are due to become free agents.
While under the spell of the Combine this past week, there were a few developments to take place within the Ravens’ front office regarding several of the Ravens’ primary starters. At the Combine themselves, Ravens’ front office officials were able to meet with the agents of several key players to begin hammering out contract extensions.
(After the "Jump", see a breakdown of how certain Ravens’ contract situations are playing out and a complete up-to-date list of each NFL teams’ current salary cap status.)
It should be noted that the official number for this year’s salary cap has yet to be released to teams around the NFL. However, for months now it has been widely discussed and reported that the number teams will be limited to for this years’ total salary cap will be about $120 million. For the most recent report on where each NFL team stands against (over/under) the proposed $120 million cap, follow the link: here.
Joe Flacco: Flacco has been open about his desire to have a new contract in place before his current one expires next spring. During the Combine in Indianapolis this past weekend, the Ravens and Flacco’s agent, Joe Linta, met for the first time in what could become a long process of working out a new deal between the franchise and the young quarterback. According to Linta, the first meeting between both sides went well:
"We just wanted to make sure that he was really as valued as much as we thought he was. It was very clear to me that everybody in their organization from the owner on down feels that way and is committed to him as their franchise quarterback. This was just confirmation for us. This isn’t an adversarial thing. They want him and he wants to be in Baltimore. The point of the (meeting) was just to get the feeling that they really wanted to work for this and get this done. It was a good visit."
While Linta is talking a lot in agent-speak, this is still good news. The Ravens of course want Flacco to remain in Baltimore for as long as possible, it’d be silly to ever assume otherwise and Linta knows that. Flacco has been a main component to the Ravens’ four post-season appearances and two AFC championship game berths, while in the process becoming the Ravens’ all-time passing leader with a total of 13,000+ yards. The question should now focus on what the Ravens will be willing to pay Flacco for his services. As NFL analyst Jason La Canfora puts it:
"How close the Ravens are to that ($15 million) number initially could dictate the tenor of these negotiations. Does it happen quickly? Does it play out over the entire spring and summer? If they come in around $13 or $14 million, then you’re in the same ball park. If they’re closer to $10 million, then you’re talking about a very different negotiation."
Over the coming weeks, and maybe even months, the Ravens and Flacco will sit at the negotiating table working out each last detail. Honestly, I expect smooth sailing for Flacco’s negotiations because the team has almost a full year to get everything finalized and the Ravens have a great track record of paying their stars well and fair to what the market dictates.
Ben Grubbs: Arguably one of the best interior offensive linemen in the entire NFL, Grubbs is set to become an unrestricted free agent in a few short weeks. The Ravens however aren’t going to let Grubbs simply stroll into free agency without a fight. According to stories reported last week, the Ravens are upping the ante and are prepared to offer Grubbs a sizeable contract to stay in Baltimore. John Harbaugh had this to say on Grubbs’ contract situation:
"We’ve offered, I don’t know if we’ve offered it yet, but we’re in negotiations of offering a lot of money. We’re going to really make a run at Ben. He’ll just have to make a decision like all the guys do. You know, to do that now or to go ahead and take it out to free agency and take it out to the market and see if he can get even more than that. That’s a decision he’s going to have to make with his agent, but I know Ben wants to be here, he’s told me that numerous times."
Harbaugh, generally known for his vague and simple answers, spoke quite candidly on the Ravens’ plans to aggressively pursue Grubbs. To me, this news came as a shock. I was convinced that there would just be no way whatsoever that the Ravens could retain Grubbs this off-season due to salary cap restraints and the amount of free agents the Ravens will want to keep in town. If general manager Ozzie Newsome and his colleagues could pull this one off, I think I speak for Ravens nation when I say that we’d all breathe a heavy sigh of relief.
Ray Rice: Well, it seems pretty much inevitable now. Ray Rice is likely going to get pegged with the franchise tag. The Ravens’ biggest free-agent-to-be was hoping to garner a long-term contract from the organization he has given so much to, but it doesn’t seem like Rice will be getting his big-time money just yet and will have to play under the $7.7 million tag the Ravens will most likely use on him. Here’s what Rice’s agent, Todd France, said about his on-going negotiations with the Ravens:
"The meeting went fine. We obviously know the tag is coming, but we will continue to have open dialogue and see if we can come to a long-term agreement, which is the preference for both sides."
While I’m sure both sides are disappointed that a long-term agreement hasn’t been reached, there’s good reason to believe that the Ravens will eventually fork over the cash Rice deserves. The two-time All-Pro (2009, 2011), Rice has had an immense amount of success in a very short time and has cemented himself as the Ravens’ centerpiece of the offense. Rice has totaled: 4,377 rushing yards/4.6 yards-per-rush average/24 TDs and 2,235 receiving yards/8.9 yards-per-catch average/5 TDs. Many argue that the Ravens aren’t willing to commit to a long-term contract with Rice because of how under-valued the running back position has become due to the injuries that can be sustained and the generally short-lived careers of backs in today’s NFL. However, Rice has proven to be extremely durable throughout his four-year career and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. As the Ravens’ biggest offensive weapon, I hope for everyone’s sake that the franchise and Rice can come to terms that keep him Baltimore for a long, long time.
The best news out of this bunch is that the Ravens plan to pursue left-guard Benn Grubbs as aggressively as they can. Over the next few weeks leading up to free agency, it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out and if Grubbs is willing to perhaps take slightly less pay than he would see on the open-market to remain in Baltimore for another shot at Super Bowl berth. I know it’s maybe a bit of a cliché nowadays to say that a player could be willing to take less money to remain on a consistently competitive team, but I think that only holds true for a few teams in the NFL, and the Ravens are one of those teams. Four years and four chances at greatness with no signs of slowing down. Those thoughts surely have to weigh heavily on a player like Grubbs who could still get paid well in Baltimore and continue to play meaningful football in January year in and year out.