Ravens hope NFL's free agency policy remains same

June 16, 2011|By Mike Preston

As NFL players and owners negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, the Ravens wouldn't mind if they kept the old terms in regards to free agency.

If the NFL institutes a new policy where a player can become a free agent after four years, the Ravens will still have a good team. If the old one remains in effect where it's six years, the Ravens will have a really, really good team.

Team officials aren't talking about it much, but it's clear they are keeping their fingers crossed in favor of six years which would allow them to retain starters such as offensive guard/tackle Marshal Yanda, fullback Le'Ron McClain, safety Dawan Landry, cornerbacks Josh Wilson and Chris Carr and offensive tackle Jared Gaither.

"You always have to address your team first, the potential free agents, regardless of what rules we'll be operating under," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "We already know there is a class of our free agents that are going to be available to the market.

"Everything will be predicated on what the requirement is going to be for free agency, whether it's four or six years, If it is four years to free agency like it was before 2010, then our numbers goes up of guys who are eligible to become free agents. If it is six, like it was last year, then that number decreases significantly for us and works into the Ravens' favor. We're prepared for both scenarios."

The Ravens have a solid core of returning players and regardless of what happens in the negotiations, should be one of the better teams in the NFL. Their needs won't change dramatically when free agency opens.

The Ravens' top priorities are finding a pass rusher, fullback and backup quarterback. They might have to find an offensive lineman or two pending on what happens with Yanda and Gaither.

Newsome expects a torrid pace once free agency finally begins, but he says the Ravens will be patient.

"We will be aggressive at retaining our own players, that's been our history," Newsome said. "But we will be smart about getting in the market with those guys, and understanding that we've had success in retaining some, and had some misfortune missing on guys like Jason Brown, Bart Scott and Anthony Weaver. We have operated on both sides of the ledger.

"Is it probably going to be fast-paced? Yes. But I think a lot of teams are going to exhibit some patience, and I think that's the position we're going to be in. We have a veteran team, but some of our success in the past is waiting and keeping an eye on guys who get cut, players that can come in and help our football team just as much as [unrestricted free agents]."

Newsome pointed out that the Ravens didn't dive into the free agent market right away in the oast to sign players such as Rod Woodson, Shannon Sharpe, Derrick Mason, Trevor Pryce and Samari Rolle.

"They were available for a lot of different reasons, maybe because the team was changing coaches, or that team drafted someone at the position or a team was up against the cap," Newsome said.

The Ravens might have to go that way to find a pass rusher. There are few great ones in the league, and teams don't part with them easily. And if they do, they cost a lot of money.

"It's hard to say who is available because we don't know what system we're going to be under yet," Newsome said, "but we're realistic about it, that the answer to finding a pass rusher might not be found right away in free agency."

Houston's Vonta Leach could be the answer at fullback for the Ravens, but he'll command a top salary because he is one of the best in the NFL. It will be interesting to see how serious the Ravens are about Leach because both head coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron have told Newsome a fullback is a major requirement in a revamped offense.

Cleveland's Lawrence Vickers might also be an option at fullback, but the Ravens won't know if the fifth-year player will be an unrestricted free agent until a new CBA agreement is reached. According to Newsome, the ideal situation would be to sign a fullback for four or five years.

The search for a backup quarterback might take awhile.

"We want the Marc Bulger type," Newsome said. "We want someone that can be an asset to Joe Flacco in the classroom. We want someone, based on his performance in training camp and practice, who gets the confidence of the other players. You want someone who, if we lose our quarterback for three or four games, can come in and not lose the game for us.

"It's difficult, but that's where you have to be patient. Because all of those teams that drafted quarterbacks, they have to let a quarterback go and maybe he fits our mold. That's why we have spent a lot of time right now looking at the draft and rosters to see who will become free agents."

First of all, though, the Ravens would like to retain their own. If they can keep McClain, he could become the team's No. 2 running back behind Ray Rice. If they keep Yanda and Gaither, they don't have to find more offensive linemen. Either Carr or Wilson would solidify the secondary. Newsome said he was involved in serious negotiations with two players, believed to be defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and Yanda, before the lockout began nearly 90 days ago.

Of the Ravens' 12 possible unrestricted free agents, Newsome said four of them would command salaries in the top 20 percent of their position salary range.

"You're going to see teams handle free agency like we handled the draft," Newsome said. "Everybody is going to be well-prepared."

mike.preston@baltsun

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