CBA Rules Limit Ravens

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There is a lot of confusion surrounding the Ravens' position in the current free-agent market because of the unfinished business of the collective bargaining agreement.

Put simply, fans shouldn't expect the Ravens to have too many changes to their roster.

But it is certainly a complicated situation.

Through an agreement reached in March 2006, there are several mechanisms in place to limit the way a team can attack free agency through the expected uncapped year of 2010.

Because of the Ravens' success last year, they will be handcuffed in their quest to acquire new players. At this point – unless a new deal can be reached by this March – the Ravens, and the rest of the teams that finished in the final eight contenders, won't be able to sign any players unless one of their free agents is scooped up by another club.

A signing also must have a comparable contract figure. Because of their divisional-round appearance, the Ravens get a break to sign one player with a salary of $4,925,000 or more and any number of players with a first-year salary of no more than $3,275,000 and an annual increase of no more than 30 percent in the following years.

What does that mean for Baltimore?

It's going to be tough for them to bring in a lot of new blood.

Of course, there are several Ravens unrestricted free agents that should be desirable to other teams, most notably wideout Derrick Mason.

Mason is still a highly-productive receiver at the age of 36 and has said that he wants to complete his career in Baltimore.

Mason earned a reported $3 million in 2009, but has hinted at retirement. It's not likely that Mason will land a huge contract in the future, so he would have a low transferable salary limit. In addition, Mason's hinted-at retirement would leave the Ravens empty handed in free agency.

Others include Kelley Washington, largely a third-down threat for the Ravens, showed that he can be a full-time wideout with a solid campaign. Tight end L.J. Smith has been a playmaker in the past, although he went through a single injury-marred and unproductive season with Baltimore.

And, defensive tackle Justin Bannan is an underrated run-stuffer.

None of Baltimore's available unrestricted free agents would command large contracts, meaning a quiet spending season.

At the end of the day, though, the Ravens would like to keep their available assets.

"You go under a set of assumptions right now that there's going to be an uncapped year, and that's how we're moving forward," said head coach John Harbaugh. "Our plan right now, I think, is probably to keep as many of our players in place as we possibly can, first. That's where you start.

"We've got good players. Some of these guys who are unrestricted are going to have opportunities to move on. Others are restricted, and we want to keep as many of our players in place as we can. And then you look outward, see who's available around the league that you might be able to add, and then you go to the draft."

With the uncapped year, the market might be thin, as well. In a salary-capped year, players only need four seasons in the league to qualify for unrestricted status.

The new rules call for six, meaning that many Ravens hoping for a big payday as a UFA now find themselves restricted, where the Ravens have the right to match an offer and would garner draft picks as compensation if the player signs elsewhere, depending on how high a tender is placed on him.

Ravens of note that will carry a restricted label include wideouts Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams, defensive end Dwan Edwards, guards Marshal Yanda and Chris Chester, tight end Quinn Sypniewski, punter Sam Koch, kicker Billy Cundiff, cornerback Fabian Washington, offensive tackles Adam Terry and Jared Gaither, safety Dawan Landry, linebabcker Antwan Barnes and fullback Le'Ron McClain.

"There's a balancing act there, because there aren't going to be as many opportunities for the top eight teams to sign unrestricted free agents," Harbaugh noted. "By the same token, there aren't going to be as many unrestricted free agents available as there would have been under the old system.

"So, I'm not sure how many free agents are really going to be out there. We kind of know who those guys are right now. If we lose a guy, then we can sign a guy. But we'll set our sights on the guys that we have an opportunity to acquire."

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