Clock's ticking for Ravens, Thomas

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens have until Thursday at 4 p.m. to assign the $7.2 million franchise tag for star defender Adalius Thomas, and it doesn't look like they're going to do so. Thomas' agent, Bus Cook, expressed confidence that the All-Pro linebacker will become an unrestricted free agent.

He's probably right, and the Ravens haven't opened up negotiations with Cook to try to retain Thomas with a contract extension "I haven't really had any communication with them at this time," Cook said in a telephone interview. "A.D. would like to stay in Baltimore, but you've got to do what you've go to do and teams have to do what they have to do. It's a business. That's the way it goes."
The Ravens are only about $3.3 million to $3.6 million underneath the salary cap limit of $109 million, and even if they cut former Pro Bowl runner Jamal Lewis, which they're likely to do before he receives a $5 million roster bonus on March 3, they still need to pay their rookies, retain restricted free agents and possibly re-sign offensive tackle Tony Pashos or reserve linebacker Jarret Johnson as Thomas' potential replacement.
The Ravens are trying to hold onto players, not expand, so this will not be a blistering pace for them like last year in free agency.
Safety Ed Reed made the point at the Pro Bowl that it never should have come to this, but that's a self-serving statement. He didn't have to push for the $40 million deal with $15 million in guaranteed money last summer. Plus, the Ravens have cap figures of over $9 million apiece for Ray Lewis and Chris McAlister. If anything, this tight cap situation stems from the Ravens' past generosity and drafting success.
The rule of today's NFL is you can't keep every good player. If Thomas leaves, call it a case of the Ravens losing one player they genuinely wanted to keep but simply couldn't afford. How would they pay him and Terrell Suggs, who's five years younger, when his rookie contract expires after this year?
Good question. The answer: They really can't, not without sacrificing more starters than they can afford to lose from their roster. This looks like it will be an anticlimactic result with Thomas ultimately leaving town.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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