Thomas won't be Ravens' franchise player

OWINGS MILLS -- In a decision that likely signals Adalius Thomas' departure, the Baltimore Ravens opted to not designate the All-Pro linebacker as their franchise player and will allow him to become an unrestricted free agent.

Although the Ravens said they will keep trying to strike a long-term deal with Thomas after unsuccessful negotiations heading into Thursday's NFL deadline to use the franchise tag, it's unlikely they will be able to compete financially with other teams due to a tight salary-cap situation.
"I don't think there's a very good chance that he will be back with Baltimore," said Bus Cook, Thomas' agent. "We appreciate that the Ravens didn't franchise him, that was good on their part.
"Now, he can go out and get paid what we feel like he's worth. Right now, my job is to go into free agency with the best player out there and see who wants him the worst." "Our hope is that we can re-sign him," general manager Ozzie Newsome said Thursday from the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. "Our play is to compete at a championship level in 2007 and beyond."
The Ravens could have technically used the tag on Thomas and temporarily gone over the cap, but that would have required cutting players or restructuring existing contracts to be in compliance when free agency begins March 2.
Consequently, the NFL's top-ranked defense is expected to lose one of the most versatile defenders in the league. Thomas is expected to command a signing bonus in excess of $12 million.
Potential salary-cap rich destinations for Thomas include: the San Francisco 49ers ($37.6 million), New England Patriots ($26.6 million), Cleveland Browns ($26.6 million), Green Bay Packers ($24.8 million) and the New York Jets ($20.8 million).
When asked how long it would take for his phone to ring about Thomas, Cook quipped: "About three or four minutes."
Thomas, 29, has 28 sacks in the past three seasons, including 16 in the past 21 games. He registered 106 tackles and 11 sacks last season. Last week, Thomas, whose top annual salary in Baltimore was $1.46 million last season, indicated that his preference was to remain in Baltimore.
"Hopefully, Baltimore will step up and get the deal done so I can retire a Baltimore Raven," Thomas told ESPN. "But it's still a business. They're going to do what's best for them, and I got to do what is best for me."
The Ravens' cap situation is impacted heavily by the high cap figures of veterans like linebacker Ray Lewis ($9.43 million), cornerback Chris McAlister ($9.41 million) and offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden ($8.79 million).
Plus, the Ravens signed defensive end Trevor Pryce last year to a five-year, $25 million deal that included $10 million in guaranteed money.
And Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs triggered an escalator clause with his 40th career sack that boosted his salary to $5 million for the final year of his contract in 2007, and he will be expensive to retain next year.
"You can only pay so many pass rushers," linebacker Bart Scott said. "It's a shame we couldn't keep A.D. because he's a great player, but that's the way this business works."
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.
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.
The Ravens have been exploring the possibility of a restructured deal with Lewis' agent, Mitch Frankel.
As for replacing Thomas, the Ravens are expected to strongly consider signing backup outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, who's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, or explore the price of undersized, athletic Indianapolis Colts free agent Cato June.
Oft-injured former Baltimore second-round pick Dan Cody and special-teams ace Gary Stills could be in the mix, too.
Scott, a former dime back who played safety in college at Southern Illinois, could assume some of Thomas' multi-faceted responsibilities on third downs.
"I can do a lot of those things and they can move me around wherever they need me, but we're going to miss A.D.," Scott said. "He was a huge part of our defense."
NOTE: Besides Thomas and Johnson, the Ravens' other players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents are: wide receiver Alex Bannister, defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin, linebacker Tim Johnson, fullbacks Ovie Mughelli and Nick Luchey, offensive tackle Tony Pashos, safety Gerome Sapp and running back Musa Smith. Newsome indicated that the team will retain its three restricted free agents: return specialist B.J. Sams and wide receivers Clarence Moore and Devard Darling.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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