The top priority for the Ravens heading into this offseason is to work out a long-term contract with franchise quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco.
The Ravens have the one-year franchise tag as an option for Flacco, but the goal is to get him locked up for the long haul.
"I'm coming away thinking that we can get a deal done," General Manager Ozzie Newsome said Thursday, citing contracts the team has worked out over the years with Ray Rice, Haloti Ngata, Ed Reed,* *Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Jonathan Ogden.
"I got a very good owner. He understands the business. He understands the importance of certain positions. So I'm optimistic."
Flacco and the Ravens tried to work out a contract before last season, but the two sides couldn't agree to terms.
Newsome said that they came "very close to a deal," and Owner Steve Bisciotti said that the offer would have made Flacco one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league.
"We offered him a top-five contract last year, and we will be back at the negotiating table, and it was pretty close last year," Bisciotti said. "So, we'll be right back at the table."
Rather than take the offer the Ravens presented last season, Flacco opted to play out the duration of his deal and put negotiations on hold until after the season. With a Lombardi Trophy now on his resume, Flacco has joked that he's going to come banging on Bisciotti's desk looking for the biggest deal possible.
"That's what we wanted," Bisciotti said. "We wanted to see him do this, and he did.
"I don't see us winning the Super Bowl making the negotiation any more difficult than it would have been had we gone out in the first round of the playoffs; that might have been more difficult. So, we both know that we want each other, and it's up to Ozzie and [Flacco's agent] Joe Linta to work that out."
The Ravens have until March 4 to work out a long-term with Flacco or else they will have to use the franchise tag on him. Applying the franchise tag could then buy the two sides extra time to work out a contract, just like they did with Rice and Ngata.
If the Ravens do franchise Flacco, they then have another decision to make: What level of the tag will they use?
There are two franchise tag options:
- The exclusive rights franchise tag would completely take Flacco off the market and prohibit other teams from contacting him. His only option would be the play for the Ravens. This carries a higher annual salary and cap hit.* *
- The non-exclusive franchise tag would leave the door open for another team to sign Flacco if they outbid the Ravens and give them two first round picks. The non-exclusive tag is more widely used because it's rare to give up two first-round picks for any player.
"Which tag we'll use – we don't know," Newsome said. "We'll be prepared for either scenario.
"I don't know what 31 other teams are doing, so we have to prepare ourselves for it. Then we also know what the exclusive tag does, where it basically takes him off the market. Those are some of the things that we'll talk about."
If Flacco does get franchised, one concern would be that he skips the offseason workouts until a long-term deal is in place. Rice didn't attend the voluntary workouts last season before he was signed to a new deal, and going through the offseason workouts without the starting quarterback in attendance could create problems.
Newsome said he doesn't know if Flacco would attend offseason workouts as a franchised player, but pointed to the quarterback's relationship with Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell as a significant consideration.
"Jim [Caldwell] said yesterday at our meetings that anytime he would ask Joe to show up, he showed up," Newsome said. "That relationship is there. And I think Joe and Jim will be able to maintain their relationship while Pat, Joe Linta and I and Steve negotiate a deal, and I think that's huge."
While there are questions about the kind of deal Flacco will get – and how long it will take to get completed – Ravens brass was clear during Thursday's end-of-season press conference that they see Flacco being in Baltimore for the forseeable future and that they liked the way he handled himself on the big stage.
"I said last year, I didn't expect him to change, and he is who he is and his demeanor, we're very comfortable with," Bisciotti said. "We don't need a screamer. And I said that I believe that the fans will be rewarded because of Joe's demeanor, and Joe will be appreciated for it if he wins. And we believe he's going to continue to win, so Joe proved that you can win being like Joe. We're thrilled, because we never thought we needed to change the way Joe was like some of [the media] or like some of our fans.
"Now, he gets to say, 'I told you so.'"