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Clock ticking, exclusive tag price falling (a little) for Flacco and Ravens

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Clock ticking, exclusive tag price falling (a little) for Flacco and Ravens

Posted on 28 February 2013 by Luke Jones

As the clock ticks for the Ravens to strike a long-term agreement with quarterback Joe Flacco ahead of Monday’s deadline to use the franchise tag, there have been no indications that the sides have engaged in contract talks since the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

Flacco’s agent Joe Linta and Ravens vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty entered contract discussions last weekend for the first time since last August, but there was no report of a deal being imminent. Of course, this doesn’t mean that progress hasn’t been made and it’s not surprising the sides are without an agreement as the March 4 deadline for designating a player with the franchise tag is now only days away.

Deadlines provide a greater sense of urgency to get deals done as we’ve seen in recent years when long-term agreements were struck with running back Ray Rice, linebacker Terrell Suggs, and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata with only hours — or even minutes — to spare in each case.

Linta has stood firm in his quest to make Flacco the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL and league insiders such as ESPN’s Adam Schefter have said a potential deal will exceed New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ five-year, $100 million contract that included $60 million guaranteed over the first three years of the deal. As has been said countless times since Super Bowl XLVII, you’d be hard-pressed to find a recent example of a player having this much leverage over a team strapped for salary-cap room and knowing they will need to fork over big bucks to a quarterback who just completed one of the greatest postseason performances in league history.

The question isn’t whether Flacco really deserves to make more than any other quarterback in football but rather do you want to keep him in Baltimore for the long haul.

The Ravens did receive some good news this week in terms of the exclusive franchise tag with New England quarterback Tom Brady and Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger reworking their current deals to lower their cap figures for the 2013 season. While neither is expected to impact the long-term negotiations between Flacco and the Ravens, the lower cap numbers for both Brady and Roethlisberger have taken them out of the league’s top 5 quarterback cap listings, which are averaged to determine the tender amount for the exclusive franchise tag.

As a result, the exclusive tag has been lowered from just under $20.5 million to a reported $19.13 million, making the use of the pricier option that takes Flacco off the free-agent market completely a bit more appealing. The non-exclusive tag is expected to cost $14.6 million for a quarterback, but it would allow another team to sign Flacco to an offer sheet and potentially surrender two first-round picks to the Ravens if they were unable to match the deal.

The lower number might do more to entice the Ravens to use the exclusive tag, but it requires an extra $4.5 million of cap room that the team already doesn’t have. In deciding between using the non-exclusive tag and the exclusive one, it could be the difference between keeping wide receiver Anquan Boldin and needing to make the painful decision to release him to clear an additional $6 million in cap space. The exclusive number also creates a natural springboard for Linta to use for negotiating by reminding the Ravens they already view Flacco as a $19.13 million-per-year player at worst in using the exclusive tag.

However, the cheaper non-exclusive tag would also result in sleepless nights for general manager Ozzie Newsome over the thought — as highly unlikely as it might be — of a team with a dramatic cap surplus like the Cleveland Browns swooping in and signing Flacco to a front-loaded offer sheet with an absurd cap number for 2013 that would either prohibit the Ravens from matching or force them to cut even more players to match the offer.

Regardless of where you fall on the decision of which tag the Ravens should use — and opinions are split around the league — it’s apparent how urgent this situation is for the Ravens as they’ve engaged in virtually no discussion with other free agents because they don’t have a clear picture of what their salary-cap picture will be at this point. Baltimore has been in contact with the agent for inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe — considered the second-biggest priority among their unrestricted free agents — but even keeping him would be extremely difficult if Flacco is to carry either tag number.

Ellerbe, left tackle Bryant McKinnie, safety Ed Reed, and any other free agent — with the team or not — remain little more than an afterthought at this point in time.

We’ll begin to receive more clarity by 4 p.m. on Monday, the last day teams may designate a player with the franchise tag, but it won’t mean negotiations will automatically break off should the Ravens announce they are tagging their quarterback. The significant time for the Ravens and Flacco to have a long-term contract in place by falls on March 12 at 4 p.m. for the start of the new league year — and the opening of free agency — when teams must be in compliance with the salary cap.

But in those final days leading up to the start of free agency, the ax could fall on a few of Flacco’s teammates as the Ravens wouldn’t be able to assume a long-term deal will happen in time to quell their cap concerns.

The clock is ticking as the Ravens and Flacco approach the first tangible deadline of the offseason and their negotiations.

As I wrote right after the Super Bowl, the real question is when — not as much if or how — the deal gets done.

And the Ravens are in a holding pattern with the rest of their offseason until it does.

 

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Business about to pick up as Ravens brass travels to NFL scouting combine

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Business about to pick up as Ravens brass travels to NFL scouting combine

Posted on 20 February 2013 by Luke Jones

After only a couple weeks to set offseason priorities and plans following their win in Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens realize business is about to pick up as the shapers of the organization travel to Indianapolis for the NFL’s scouting combine.

Most teams will be focused primarily on scouting the incoming rookie class ahead of April’s draft and holding informal discussions — don’t dare call these talks tampering, however — with the agents of soon-to-be free agents, but the Ravens hold the clearest and most important task of any team in Indianapolis. General manager Ozzie Newsome and vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty are set to meet with quarterback Joe Flacco’s agent for their first contract negotiations since last August. Joe Linta has expressed a desire for his client to become the highest-paid quarterback in the league and is reportedly seeking upwards of $20 million per season.

As unlikely as it is that the sides come to an agreement on a long-term contract this weekend in Indianapolis, it will be important to see progress made from the point where talks broke down prior to last season. The first real deadline on which to be focused is March 4, the last day the Ravens are allowed to place the franchise tag on Flacco for the 2013 season. Should the Ravens be forced to use the $14.6 non-exclusive tag or the exclusive one estimated to cost $20 million or more for a one-year tender, they will be faced with making a number of roster cuts to be in compliance with the salary cap by the start of the new league year on March 12.

While Flacco’s side is likely willing to be creative in structuring a deal to quell cap concerns for the 2013 season, Linta made it clear a couple weeks ago that it’s not his client’s obligation to take a hometown discount to bail the Ravens out of trouble.

“There are a lot of teams in the same boat; the Ravens aren’t the only ones with cap problems,” Linta said on AM 1570 WNST.net earlier this month. “Whether it’s Joe or any of the other free agents who are upcoming, they have to figure out how to do it. Every time you’re a cap manager like Ozzie and Pat are, you have to come up with a puzzle that works for you.”

As Moriarty’s focus will largely be on making substantial strides in order to lock up the Super Bowl MVP for the long haul, the rest of the organization will be consumed with 40-yard dash times, bench-press reps, medical exams, and interviews with countless draft prospects. And considering their tenuous cap position and how it will hinder their ability to be overly active in free agency, the Ravens will depend on April’s draft as much as ever to replenish the voids left by departing members of their Super Bowl championship team.

Te’o talk

No draft prospect will be under more scrutiny in the coming days than Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, who claimed to be the victim of an online hoax that’s drawn an overwhelming amount of attention for the better part of a month. He will be peppered with questions about the story of his nonexistent girlfriend and must test well to put himself back in position to be a top-15 pick.

It’s no secret that the Ravens will be looking at the inside linebacker position due to the retirement of future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, the uncertain status of free-agent linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, and the health of Jameel McClain after he suffered a spinal cord contusion in December. Te’o has been deemed a logical fit by many draft analysts who have linked him to the Ravens at the 32nd overall pick in mock drafts. It is believed that the Ravens are impressed with the 255-pound linebacker’s ability despite his poor showing in the BCS national championship game against Alabama last month.

As is the case with any player dealing with off-field issues, it’s critical for teams to draw a definitive assessment of his ability on the field before even contemplating taking the time and resources to investigate whether they can tolerate the baggage that will accompany Te’o. His is an unprecedented case as issues of trust and whether the young linebacker will be resilient enough to deal with the intense scrutiny in the months and years to come must be strongly considered.

If the Ravens are convinced the Heisman Trophy runner-up is fast enough to go sideline to sideline — his 40 time will be a major point of interest for teams — and strong enough to take on offensive linemen in the NFL, they will do their homework on his character to determine whether he’s a realistic option at the No. 32 spot. If not, they will turn to other prospects at the position.

Another inside linebacker dealing with off-field baggage is Georgia’s Alec Ogletree, who was arrested earlier this month for DUI. Ogletree excelled at a number of positions for the Bulldogs and is considered exceptional in pass coverage, but his off-field issues — he was also suspended four games last season for failing a drug test during spring practice — may send him down the draft board, making him a possibility at the end of the first round. The questions associated with Te’o and Ogletree may benefit the Ravens, who would have figured to have no chance for either player under regular circumstances.

Other inside linebacker prospects that could be options in the first few rounds include LSU’s Kevin Minter, Oregon’s Kiko Alonso, and Alabama’s Nico Johnson, who will not participate at the combine after undergoing sports hernia surgery following the Senior Bowl.

Addressing the blind side

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Real question is when — not how — Ravens, Flacco strike long-term deal

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Real question is when — not how — Ravens, Flacco strike long-term deal

Posted on 11 February 2013 by Luke Jones

Forgive me if I’m not interested in discussing how much money quarterback Joe Flacco is really worth as he and agent Joe Linta reopen contract talks with the Baltimore Ravens this week.

That was a far more compelling debate just two months ago when Flacco fell into the category of good quarterbacks yet to win a Super Bowl. Now, the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player — fresh off one of the greatest postseason runs in NFL history — undoubtedly falls somewhere in the small group of premium-tier quarterbacks, making the value of his next contract less compelling as he now should be viewed as the next top quarterback in line for a payday.

Flacco’s the next man up at the ATM, ready to receive a record-setting deal that will inevitably be trumped by Aaron Rodgers or even Matt Ryan in the next year or two. That’s the way it works for the likes of Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Eli Manning. It’s largely a cyclical process for the quarterbacks with staying power.

There’s no disputing that Flacco is going to get paid lucratively, whether you want to face reality or insist on saying he needs to show more than what he did over the final month of the season or that he should give the Ravens a discount to preserve the cap. That’s not to trivialize the complexity of negotiations between Linta and general manager Ozzie Newsome and vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty, but Flacco will emerge somewhere among the top two or three highest-paid quarterbacks in the league — if not the highest — when it’s all said and done. All the signs point to it, regardless of where you stood on the Flacco meter prior to the 28-year-old throwing 11 touchdowns without an interception over four playoff games.

“When you do a contract of this magnitude, you look at two things,” Linta said on AM 1570 WNST.net last week. “One is his body of work, what he’s done in the past up to now, especially in the last five weeks, but especially the last five years. And then, as you go forward, what are the expectations over the next four, five, or six years? What is his health, his age, all those kinds of things? You factor all those things and then come up with something that you think is fair.”

Linta and Flacco hold all the leverage as they’re fully aware of the Ravens’ tight salary cap and how a long-term agreement is a necessity to avoid losing countless players — free agents and players under contract alike. Both sides know Flacco is entering his prime years and has never missed a game in his entire career. And it’s no longer a question whether Flacco is capable of leading a team to a championship; he’s done it already.

The challenge for the Ravens becomes how firmly Newsome can stand his ground in trying to negotiate the healthiest deal for his franchise while also remembering how critical it will be to have a deal signed by March 4, the deadline for using the franchise tag. In order to maintain any semblance of the 2012 championship team, the Ravens simply have no choice but to reach a deal with their most important player.

The problem is Linta knows that, meaning the agent can try to bleed every last nickel from the Ravens that he wants. This negotiation is about leverage and where Flacco is right now in his career, regardless of what anyone thinks his “true” value is based on the collective body of work through five professional seasons.

How the deal gets done isn’t nearly as important as when it happens.

If the sides are unable to strike a deal, the Ravens are faced with the reality of spending a minimum of $14.6 million by way of the non-exclusive franchise tag, which would still leave Flacco free to negotiate with other teams. Should another team sign him to an offer sheet, the Ravens would have five days to match the offer or receive two first-round picks from that organization.

The safer — but more costly — alternative would be to place the exclusive tag on Flacco, guaranteeing he would remain in Baltimore for another year but also meaning the Ravens would need to pay upwards of $20 million in salary for the 2013 season. According to NFL.com, the Ravens are roughly $12.9 million under the cap before addressing Flacco, their restricted free agents, or any of their impending free agents.

In other words, the exclusive tag means the Ravens would be waving goodbye to several more veterans, which could include the likes of fullback Vonta Leach, kick returner Jacoby Jones, and top wide receiver Anquan Boldin. Such cuts would be to simply clear enough room to fit the quarterback inside the cap without addressing any other holes created in that process.

And never mind what the exclusive tag price would mean to Linta’s negotiating position, with him then having the tangible $20 million-per-season platform on which to stand.

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