Cap room may be issue in decision on Thomas

February 15, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

A week before the NFL deadline, the Ravens remain undecided whether to use the franchise tag to keep All-Pro linebacker Adalius Thomas.

The bigger question, however, is whether they have enough salary cap room to do so.

By using the tag for 2007, the Ravens can keep Thomas from becoming a free agent by paying him $7.2 million, which is the average of the five highest-paid linebackers in the league.

But it has been estimated that the Ravens have less than $3 million in cap space.

Asked whether the Ravens have to make cap room to use the tag, general manager Ozzie Newsome said yesterday: "We have not made a decision yet."

The deadline to use the tag is next Thursday.

The Ravens are expected to clear $3.3 million in cap room when they cut Jamal Lewis before the running back receives a $5 million roster bonus next month.

But that might be the only cap savings for the Ravens because Newsome said he doesn't expect the team to cut anyone else before free agency begins in March.

With not enough cap space, it could be difficult for the Ravens to keep Thomas.

Thomas, 29, finished with a career-high 11 sacks this season and ranked third on the team with 106 tackles.

Asked whether the Ravens have begun talks on a long-term deal with Thomas, Newsome said, "Not at this point."

Thomas' agent, Bus Cook, did not return phone calls.

Thomas would be a lucrative free agent for several teams, especially the San Francisco 49ers, who have an estimated $38 million in cap space. The 49ers are coached by former Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who always considered Thomas the most valuable piece of the defense.

If Thomas goes elsewhere, the Ravens could try to sign Indianapolis Colts free-agent linebacker Cato June or re-sign underrated backup Jarret Johnson.

But if the Ravens create enough space to use the tag on Thomas, they would retain all the starters on the NFL's top-ranked defense.

The franchise tag allows a team to keep a player from becoming a free agent that season by paying him the average salary of the five highest-paid players at his position. Thomas still could sign a long-term deal with another team, but the Ravens would receive two first-round picks for compensation, making such a scenario unlikely.

The Ravens have been reluctant to use the tag in the past because it creates animosity by keeping the player off the free-agent market. The last time the Ravens used the tag was to keep cornerback Chris McAlister in 2003 and 2004.

Without the tag, Thomas would become an unrestricted free agent March 2. The possibility of letting Thomas leave was recently criticized by Ravens safety Ed Reed.

"You hate to see the Ravens even put him in this kind of predicament," Reed told Yahoo Sports at the Pro Bowl. "That goes to show you how shady and how bad the business is and how bad certain organizations are. ... He has been nothing but loyal to them. Not only the city, but the organization. If he gets away, it's a terrible decision on their part. It was a terrible decision to even let it get this far."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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