Ravens set for free agency

OWINGS MILLS -- Impending economic disaster is afoot in the NFL with a high-stakes labor confrontation threatening the league's salary-cap system, several high profile players' jobs and franchises' ability to compete. However, the Baltimore Ravens appear equipped to weather this financial ice age.

The Ravens are an estimated $11.9 million to $16 million underneath a projected salary-cap limit of $95 million if no collective bargaining agreement extension is reached prior to Thursday afternoon.

Unlike the bloated payrolls of the Oakland Raiders ($26 million over), Miami Dolphins ($21.9 million over), Kansas City Chiefs ($21.7 million) and Washington Redskins ($17 million over), the Ravens won't need to cut players to comply with the cap heading into Friday's scheduled start of the free agent signing period.

"We have a Plan A and a Plan B whether we get an extension to the collective bargaining agreement or not," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said Wednesday, a day after deadlocked negotiations were broken off between NFL Players Association leader Gene Upshaw and the NFL management council. "We don't have to cut players to be able to be a player in free agency if we don't get an extension.

"We're treating this just like our draft process in an unemotional state. We've come up with a plan that's very well thought-out."

Thursday is expected to bring a severe bloodletting of rosters in a mad dash to get under the cap by 4 p.m. Standouts such as Trevor Pryce, Mike Anderson and Sam Adams, Sam Madison and Lawyer Milloy were let go Wednesday in cost-cutting measures. Barring a last-minute delay to continue talks, free agency will officially begin at 12:01 a.m. Friday.

The Ravens will have a large pool of players to choose from, and they should have enough salary-cap space to accommodate nose guard Maake Kemoeatu, running back
Chester Taylor, linebacker Bart Scott, a quarterback and a few other players.

The major problem in forging contracts under this new landscape, though, is that signing bonuses can only be amortized over four years instead of the usual seven and base salaries can only increase 30 percent per year.

"We'll make some adjustments," Newsome said. "For the most part, we're going to stay true to what we've mapped out."

The league is careening toward an uncapped year in 2007 and a possible lockout in 2008 or a decertification of the union unless the gap can be bridged between the NFL's offer of 56.2 percent of revenues and the union's demand of 60 percent. It's a difference that translates into $300 million to $350 million per year. The owners' revenue-sharing dispute is another hotly-contested issue.

With no salary cap ceiling, richer franchises would be able to bid more for the top free agents a la the New York Yankees' pennant-buying fever. It will make it extremely difficult for smaller-market teams to offer competitive salaries. Plus, there will be no minimum salary basement.

"This salary cap will be topless and bottomless," Ravens tight end Daniel Wilcox said. "There's going to be about 30 superstars on one team and so many other guys just happy to have a job in the NFL. Something needs to get done fast."

NOTES: The Ravens sent a first-round tender to restricted free agent Tony Pashos, securing their projected starting right tackle. … The Ravens interviewed 60 players at the scouting combine, including Michigan defensive tackle Gabe Watson. "It was very productive," Newsome said.

 

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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