or an extremely rich contract offer, the Baltimore Ravens aren't expected to designate All-Pro linebacker Adalius Thomas as their franchise player by today's deadline.
Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome said Wednesday afternoon that the team hasn't decided whether to assign the $7.2 million tag to Thomas and was actively trying to sign him to a contract extension.
If Thomas isn't signed to a new deal or made the franchise player by 4 p.m. today, he's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent who can sign with any team without compensation awarded to Baltimore.
"We're still in the process of trying to get the extension, a long-term deal, before we make that decision on using the franchise tag," Newsome said in a telephone interview from the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. "That decision hasn't been made."
Two factors make it an unlikely scenario that Thomas will be prevented from heading onto the open NFL marketplace.
The Ravens' salary-cap situation is tight as they're believed to be between $3.3 million and $3.6 million under the league limit of $109 million.
Plus, Thomas is expected to be one of the league's most sought after athletes.
It would be difficult for the Ravens to compete financially with potential Thomas suitors that have a lot of salary cap flexibility like the San Francisco 49ers ($37.6 million), New England Patriots ($26.6 million), Cleveland Browns ($26.6 million) and Green Bay Packers ($24.8 million).
If Thomas becomes a free agent, he's expecting a major financial windfall that could include a signing bonus in excess of $12 million. Thomas has 28 sacks and four interceptions over the past three seasons.
"I would think A.D. would be at the top of most teams' lists," said Bus Cook, Thomas' agent.
Also, Thomas, who turns 30 before next season and earned a career-high of $1.465 million last season, has never had a big payday.
The versatile 6-foot-2, 270-pounder was drafted in the sixth round out of Southern Mississippi in 2000 and signed a modest three-year contract in 2004 that included a $2.5 million signing bonus after becoming frustrated with other teams' reluctance to commit to a big offer sheet.
"A.D. would like to stay in Baltimore, but you've got to do what you go to do and teams have to do what they have to do," Cook said. "It's a business. That's the way it goes."
The Ravens could try to create more salary-cap space by cutting former Pro Bowl runner Jamal Lewis before March 3 when he's due a $5 million roster bonus that he's not expecting to receive.
"I'm not sure what Baltimore is planning to do with Jamal," said Mitch Frankel, Lewis' agent.
When or if the Ravens cut Lewis, who's due a $5 million base salary next season, they would be able to reduce his cap figure from $11.6 million to $3.3 million against the 2007 salary cap for a savings of $8.3 million.
Newsome said the team has held discussions with Lewis, who could possibly be retained under a restructured contract.
Meanwhile, Newsome indicated that the team has conducted conversations or preliminary talks with all of its impending free agents.
That group includes offensive tackle Tony Pashos, linebacker Jarret Johnson, fullback Ovie Mughelli, running back Musa Smith, safety Gerome Sapp and defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin.
Pashos' price tag may have grown too rich for Baltimore. Johnson is expected to be a priority if Thomas leaves town. Mughelli emerged as a valuable blocker and pass-catcher last season who could be retained at a reasonable price.
Free agency begins March 2.
NOTE: Newsome confirmed that the team will continue a practice of retaining all of its restricted free agents, players whom the team retains the right of first refusal, prior to the league deadline. That group includes return specialist B.J. Sams along with wide receivers Devard Darling and Clarence Moore.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.
NFL deadline looms for Ravens, Thomas
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