The Ravens need to be careful in the way they handle backup running back Willis McGahee during the offseason.
According to an NFL source, the Ravens decided at their recent evaluation meetings not to bring McGahee and his $6 million in base salary back for the 2011 season.
McGahee is under contract to the Ravens for 2011, but 2012 ($6.5 million base salary) and 2013 ($7.2) are option years, according to the seven-year contract he signed in 2007.
When asked if the Ravens were going to cut McGahee, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome replied: "I have said there will be no players released before March 3."
When asked if McGahee would be on the Ravens roster before the beginning of next season, Newsome said: "Right now, there are a lot of things that could happen before next season."
Newsome must have been pretty good as a youngster playing dodge ball.
But we can read between the lines. The Ravens were content to pay McGahee $3.6 million as a backup last season, but it will be hard to pay him nearly double that amount in the same role in 2011.
Newsome, though, is playing it right. He needs to be tight-lipped because it's to the point now where almost every team needs two good running backs to make it through a season, and the Ravens could use McGahee again as a complement to starter Ray Rice (1,220 yards on 307 carries).
McGahee's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, did not return phone calls to his office the past two days. But it's safe to assume he knows the Ravens will probably cut his client, and McGahee will test the free-agent market.
Although he can still start for some teams in the NFL, a lot of teams won't be willing to pay McGahee top dollar anymore. He isn't as quick and decisive as he was four years ago.
McGahee also might be at the point in his career when he wants the regular beatdowns on Sunday afternoons to come playing for a contender instead of a pretender.
And that's where the Ravens have to be smart and careful. McGahee isn't what he used to be, but what's left is good enough for the Ravens. One thing they learned from last season is that Rice isn't a runner who can endure 25 to 30 carries a game, especially in his dual capacity as a threat in the passing game.
There has been speculation that fullback Le'Ron McClain could replace McGahee, but McClain is expected to become an unrestricted free agent later this offseason. Plus, he is a power runner and limits the running game.
McGahee still can run inside with power, or occasionally break a long one on the outside. He blocks well and last year rushed for 380 yards on 100 carries.
Soon after the Ravens release McGahee, they should stay in constant contact, and make him another offer. The team had personality conflicts with McGahee during his first two seasons in Baltimore, but he has made positive contributions since.
Soon after the end of the 2010 season, both owner Steve Bisciotti and head coach John Harbaugh emphasized improving the running game. The Ravens now have a quarterback that can beat you, but the No. 1 option is to still to run the ball. They can do that if they find a quality left tackle. They can do that if they move Michael Oher back to right tackle and Marshal Yanda to right guard.
And they can do that if tRice humbles himself a little more like he did during his first two years. Another key could be re-signing McGahee, who already knows the offense and his role.
The Ravens just have to find a mutually satisfying contract. Until then, they need to be careful with McGahee, who sometimes has a very sensitive side.
Listen to Mike Preston on "The Bruce Cunningham Show" from noon to 2 p.m. Mondays and Fridays on 105.7 FM.