As the four recently released Ravens walk out of team headquarters for perhaps the final time this week, they open the door for the team’s free-agent priority.
The Ravens struck a deal with Marshal Yanda late Tuesday afternoon, agreeing to terms with the coveted offensive lineman on a multi-year deal that is believed to average a little more than $6 million per season.
According to SI.com, Yanda agreed to five-year, $32 million deal that includes $10 million signing bonus. He will receive $21 million in first three seasons.
The second-richest deal ever given to a Ravens offensive lineman, behind All-Pro Jonathan Ogden’s contracts, was made possible after the Ravens created $18.6 million in salary-cap room by cutting tight end Todd Heap, wide receiver Derrick Mason, nose tackle Kelly Gregg and running back Willis McGahee.
The timing of the agreement — Yanda was locked up three days before free agency began — revealed how aggressive the Ravens were in negotiations and how much Yanda, 26, wanted to stay.
“He told us he wanted to be a Raven,” coach John Harbaugh said in a statement. “I’m beaming. We’re a better team than we were one hour ago.”
Attempts to reach Yanda were unsuccessful. A news conference could be held as early as Wednesday, the first day of Ravens training camp.
The Ravens’ focus now turns to reaching a long-term deal with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who is scheduled to earn $12.5 million under the franchise tag. The Ravens could free up more space before the start of free agency Friday if they can come to terms on a new contract with Ngata.
The next pending free agent who could get signed by the Ravens before Friday is cornerback Josh Wilson. A source said the team is interested in retaining the former University of Maryland standout, but he has been trying to gauge his value with other teams.
For now, the Ravens are celebrating keeping one of their four free-agent offensive linemen (Jared Gaither, Chris Chester and Tony Moll are the others). It was rumored that the Washington Redskins had Yanda on their wish list, but the Ravens let it known that Yanda was on the top of theirs.
Harbaugh made it a point at the NFL combine in February to say Yanda was the team’s priority in free agency. He epitomizes everything they want in an offensive lineman. He’s strong. He’s tough. And he’s a hard worker.
Yanda is expected to move back to right guard, where he could be a Pro Bowl performer. Some team officials believe starting Yanda at guard is key to picking up a sagging running game.
A third-round pick in 2007, Yanda can play every position on the offensive line. In starting 42 career games, he has bounced from guard to tackle and back throughout his career. He also serves as the third-string center.
Last season, Yanda started at right tackle after Gaither was sidelined for the entire year with a back injury.
The Ravens paid a big price in keeping Yanda, who was ranked as the 13th-best free agent this year by CBS Sports. Still, it was $2 million less per season than the highest-paid guard. New Orleans’ Jahri Evans signed a seven-year, $56.7 million deal last season.
“It fires me up,” offensive line coach Andy Moeller said in a statement. “He’s one of our guys. He’s a true Raven. It gives me a sense of relief.”
There have been mixed emotions at Ravens headquarters since the NFL lockout ended Monday. Harbaugh confirmed that Heap, Mason, Gregg and McGahee will get released on Thursday.
The Ravens were reportedly $1 million over the cap before they made any moves.
“It's just the reality of the salary cap,” Harbaugh said. “It's the situation we're in now, and going forward we've got to try to make the best team we can.”
The Ravens’ players understand it’s a business, but these moves were more than just transactions. These four players represented a chunk of a team that has gone to the playoffs for the past three seasons.
“It sucks if they don’t re-sign them,” cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. “I’m going to miss those guys.”
Mason, Gregg and McGahee all took their physicals Tuesday and met with general manager Ozzie Newsome to discuss the future. Mason, who said he doesn’t plan to retire, gave no indication of the Ravens’ interest in him at this point.
“If they want me back, I'm back,” Mason said. “That's all I can say.”
Harbaugh said other teams will start to release players like the Ravens were forced to do, estimating there could be as many 120 or 130 players cut to get teams under the cap. That could put 500 free agents onto the market.
“I think it's going to be unpredictable,” Harbaugh said as the doors opened at Ravens headquarters Tuesday. “I think you always have to look to make your team better. There's probably going to be an opportunity in terms of the market being flooded with players that has never happened in the history of the National Football League and probably won't happen again the next 10 years. So we've got to do everything we can to take advantage of it and improve our team, and we're going to need a little space to do that.”
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