Free agency has limitations but still an option for Ravens

As uncapped year begins, receiver Walter likely target

March 05, 2010|By Jamison Hensley | jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Restricted as they've never been before, the Ravens are still entering free agency with an open mind.

General manager Ozzie Newsome wouldn't say the Ravens would be quiet as the NFL entered its first uncapped year since 1993 at 12:01 today.

"It's up in the air," he said. "Once we get into free agency, if there is an opportunity for us to better our football team, we will do so."

Under this new system, the Ravens will be limited more than most teams because they were among the final eight teams in the playoffs. The four teams that lost in the divisional round - the Ravens, San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys - may sign one unrestricted free agent for a contract with a first-year value of $5.8 million or more as well as any number of unrestricted free agents to contracts with a first-year value of $3.8 million or less.

With one big contract to give to an unrestricted free agent, the Ravens' choices likely range from wide receiver (Kevin Walter and Antonio Bryant) to cornerback (Leigh Bodden) to tight end (Ben Watson).

According to two league sources, the Ravens have shown increased interest in the Houston Texans' Walter, 28, who is among the top three unrestricted free-agent wide receivers. He would add size (he's 6 feet 3), toughness as a blocker and dependable hands. The Cincinnati Bengals also are expected to pursue Walter.

The Ravens don't have a cap with their eight unrestricted free agents (only two are starters). The team is expected to re-sign wide receiver Derrick Mason, but defensive end Dwan Edwards and defensive tackle Justin Bannan could go elsewhere. Under the "Final Eight" plan, the Ravens can sign another unrestricted free agent if one of their own signs with another team (the contract value has to be the same).

To avoid these limitations, the Ravens could be forced to get creative this offseason. Newsome wouldn't rule out a trade to improve his team.

Wide-out Anquan Boldin, 29, appears to be a better fit because he comes with less baggage and a lesser asking price (the Arizona Cardinals reportedly would trade him for a third-round pick). He has averaged 83 catches and six touchdowns in his seven-year career.

Brandon Marshall, 25, has three straight seasons of 100-plus catches, but it could take more to pry him away from the Denver Broncos (a first-round pick or a second-rounder). His legal troubles and clash with a head coach don't seem to mesh with coach John Harbaugh's "team" philosophy.

Note: Backup quarterback Troy Smith received a low tender as a restricted free agent, according to his agent. If another team wants Smith, the Ravens have the first right of refusal or receive a fifth-round pick as compensation. The team could have protected Smith with a second-round tender ($1.6 million) instead of the low one ($1.1 million).

Unrestricted free agents
Justin Bannan, DT; Dwan Edwards, DE; Corey Ivy, CB; Derrick Mason, WR; L.J. Smith, TE; David Tyree, WR; Frank Walker, CB; Kelley Washington, WR

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