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Ravens Ready to Deal


While most teams around the NFL raced to strap themselves with exorbitant contracts in the opening days of free agency last weekend, the Ravens instead sat back and watched the events unfold.

But now, Baltimore is ready to get in on the action.

The wait-and-see approach is a familiar one for the Ravens, where general manager Ozzie Newsome typically prefers to allow big spenders to unload on their top targets before joining in the fracas.

"We've started to pursue," Newsome said Wednesday from his office in Owings Mills, Md. "We have some contracts out there available to some players at this point. But, we did want to wait until the market settled a little bit."

Newsome foresaw the flurry of activity, spurred by a dramatic increase in the salary cap from $109 million in 2007 to $116 million a year later.

He also knew that when many of the league's most-coveted stars were secured by their respective teams with a franchise tag, the talent pool would be thinner at the highest tier. The Ravens pulled their biggest unrestricted free agent—linebacker Terrell Suggs—off the table with the franchise designation, as did the Kansas City Chiefs (defensive end Jared Allen), Indianapolis Colts (tight end Dallas Clark) and the Carolina Panthers (offensive tackle Jordan Gross), among others.

"The cap has increased so much, and there was so much room available, we knew the guys that had a chance to get into the market were going to do very well," Newsome noted. "In most instances, when there is not a lot of product and a lot of a demand, the money grows.

"You also have some teams that have helped themselves, but from our perspective, we knew that we weren't going to be a big player."

Instead of assembling a team by signing high-priced free agents, the Ravens have historically relied on the draft to bolster the franchise. Newsome's drafting history cannot be denied, as he's selected 10 future Pro Bowlers and signed one as a rookie free agent (linebacker Bart Scott).

In addition, Newsome wants to ensure young prospects are closely appraised as they develop, especially when a rash of injuries suffered in Baltimore last season emphasized the significance of depth.

"We still believe that you build through the draft," said the general manager. "The big part of our football team is that there were so many injuries, we need to make sure that we evaluate our own teams correctly."

As highlighted in the early stages of the signing period, such expensive splurging makes it crucial for the Ravens to look to the future as their nucleus matures.

"What it does is that it makes us look more carefully at our guys entering their second and third years of four- and five-year contracts," he said. "We need to make sure we can get those guys done sooner, because the closer they get to free agency, that harder it is to sign them.

"We'll make sure that with our younger players, by the time they finish their third year, we have a good idea of where they are and what their value is, so we can determine if we need to go ahead and extend them or not."

With Suggs under the franchise tag, which earns him over $8 million next year, the Ravens' unrestricted free agents stand at linebacker Nick Greisen, running back Musa Smith, return specialist B.J. Sams, wideout Devard Darling and safety Gerome Sapp.

Newsome reiterated that he is still looking to negotiate a long-term contract with Suggs, who is in arbitration with the team regarding his status as a linebacker or defensive end. A player with the franchise tag means he will earn the average amount of the five highest-paid players at his position.

"We've heard from Terrell's agent [Gary Wichard] yesterday, but we are involved in a grievance regarding arbitration of what position he's playing," said Newsome. "When that is resolved, we'll get back to the table."

Still, Suggs' contract won't be the only one Newsome is working on leading up to the all-important draft. There are still other free agent deals he wants to accomplish.

"We have been in contact with some players at some positions where we feel like they can help," he stated.

Newsome just wanted to wait until the time was right.

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