Assembling an NFL roster is a Rubik's Cube. You have to be smart in the draft and free agency while retaining your own veteran nucleus - all within the framework of the league's salary cap.
One way of keeping veterans is the so-called "franchise tag" - a distinction that sounds flattering but isn't always welcomed by the players who are so designated. They get big money, but for just one year.
Fans understand Baltimore's dilemma: A fistful of accomplished veterans are eligible for free agency. So there is a notion that, for another Super Bowl run in 2009, the Ravens should franchise Ray Lewis, a future Hall of Famer who will be 34 next season. Although Lewis continues to perform at a Pro Bowl level, the argument goes, the team should guard against getting stuck with big salary cap numbers in the future.
OK, that's the logical, in-a-vacuum way of looking at it. Here's the real-world version.
Lewis believes the team owes him loyalty and that means a multi-year contract with guaranteed bonuses and all the rest. Such a contract says to Lewis that he's family.
Fans may ask, so what? You franchise the guy and he plays.
Well, yeah, kinda, maybe.
A happy Ray Lewis is an intense, relentless, unyielding driver who helps define the Ravens' character.
An unhappy Ray Lewis, well, I'm not sure the Ravens want to find out what it's like.