The football world's focus returns to Indianapolis this week, where more than 300 NFL hopefuls will participate in the annual scouting combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Starting Wednesday and running through next Tuesday, the event, which comes two weeks after the city played host to the Super Bowl, is the biggest showcase for prospects before late April's NFL Draft. It also represents one of the first opportunities for teams to start shaping their game plans for the offseason.
Ravens' top decision makers and scouts will be on hand, studying the draft class with a particular eye on finding help for the offensive line, passing game and pass rush. The Ravens will pick 29th overall in the first round on April 26.
However, their focus this week will also extend beyond the field. They are expected to at least touch base with the agents of quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice about potential contract extensions, which were stated offseason priorities for the AFC North champs. They also can speak further with the representatives of their 13 unrestricted free agents, who officially hit the open market March 13.
There might not be any huge developments this week, but there are obviously some things that the Ravens would like to get accomplished.
Break the ice on extension talks with Flacco, Rice
By now, everybody knows that Joe Linta, the agent for Flacco, is scheduled to meet this week with Ravens vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty, who negotiates most of the team's contracts, to begin discussing the framework of an extension for the quarterback.
Linta, who made some waves when he talked about his client as a top-five quarterback, put the highly-discussed meeting in perspective when he told The Sun, "We're not going to have a press conference next Saturday to announce his extension. In order to do Joe Flacco's contract extension, we have to start somewhere. And that's sitting down and chatting, and that's what we're doing."
The Ravens want to make sure that Flacco doesn't enter the 2012 season as a lame duck quarterback in the final year of his contract. However, the more urgent matter is securing the future of Rice, the two-time Pro Bowl running back whose contract is up.
The Ravens have until March 5 to put the franchise tag on Rice, which seems to be little more than a formality. Not only will the tag ensure that Rice remains with the Ravens without getting an opportunity to shop his services elsewhere, it will buy the team and his agent, Todd France, some time to negotiate a long-term deal.
If the Ravens put the franchise tag on Rice, they'll have until July 16 to negotiate with the running back before he plays the season under the franchise tag and an expected $7.7 million salary.
As Linta observed in regard to Flacco, the talks have to start somewhere. To this point, there have been no developments in negotiations with Rice and this week would be a good time for groundwork to be laid.
Get a better feel for market of own free agents
Aside from Rice, the Ravens appear accepting of the reality that their 12 other unrestricted free agents, a group that includes three defensive starters and a Pro Bowl offensive lineman, will hit the open market. That, however, doesn't mean that the team doesn't maintain interest in retaining several of them.
Defensive end Cory Redding, linebackers Jarret Johnson and Jameel McClain, guard Ben Grubbs and special teams contributors Haruki Nakamura and Brendon Ayanbadejo are all guys that the Ravens have different levels of interest in bringing back. But as always, they'll will have to decide whether their price is prohibitive.
The Ravens have shown in the past that they are not afraid to make tough decisions and part ways with players who have been vital to their success. Guys like Johnson and McClain could find more money and more opportunity elsewhere, like in Indianapolis, where former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano is now the head coach and has already mentioned that he'd like some of his former players to join him.
Grubbs, a former first-round pick who has developed into one of the team's best offensive linemen, also is expected to command a deal that may make it nearly impossible for the Ravens to keep him while addressing their other needs.
At the State of the Ravens address earlier this month, Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome said it will come down to "who will Ben keep us from getting and who will be have to let go in order to keep Ben? That's going to be the balance."
Finalize a plan to solidify the offensive line
Ravens will do more than scout next generation at combine
Negotiations with Flacco and Rice should start, and free agency market will come in to focus
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