While getting a deal done with Joe Flacco tops the Ravens’ offseason priority list, that’s not the only order of business at hand.
Safety Ed Reed, linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe, cornerback Cary Williams and tackle Bryant McKinnie all will be free agents.
But general manager Ozzie Newsome envisions this being like recent offseasons when the team has been willing to let productive veterans depart when their price tags get too high.
Newsome said the Ravens learned their lesson after winning the Super Bowl following the 2000 season. At that time, they restructured several veterans’ contracts just to make a run at another championship, but at the cost of future cap space and success. Newsome cautioned not to expect that to happen again.
“We will not repeat what we did in 2001. We’re trying to build where we can win Super Bowls more than just one more time,” Newsome said. “I think our team is structured differently this time also. We do have some veterans that will probably be retiring, but we have a great nucleus of young players and players that are just heading into their prime that we’re going to build this team around.
“But we’re not going to be restructuring contracts, do all of those different things just to be able to maintain this team just to make another run. We’re not doing that. But all that being said, John (Harbaugh) and I have talked about it - and we’ve talked to the coaches - that doesn’t mean that we don’t want to try and go and repeat.”
Newsome later said no other veterans than Ray Lewis have officially declared their decision to retire.
The Ravens will have to be extra careful, as team president Dick Cass said the salary cap isn’t expected to go up much the next two years.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Baltimore will be about $20 million over the cap for next season if it needs to use the franchise tag on Flacco.
So that could lead to some hard decisions, the pending free agents notwithstanding.
Newsome recognized that it could be a difficult balancing act with considering restructuring contracts under special circumstances.
“I think over the course of the last two years we’ve probably redid two deals,” he said of renegotiating contracts with Marshal Yanda and Bernard Pollard. “The only time we consider restructuring guys’ deals is if a player becomes available that we think has great value and is worth us restructuring the deal to get it done. It also has to be a player we think has a very good chance of playing out his contract.
“That’s when you get in trouble is if you restructure the deal, and all of a sudden the player’s abilities fall off the cliff and you have to let him go and you have to eat all that acceleration right away. We are of the mind right now I think the way John and his coaches develop players, the way (the front office) guys go out and collect players, we’ve got a good nucleus of young players who are still under their first contract, which will allow us to not have to do that. If there is a dynamic player out there, then there are a couple of players we could go to, but that’s so far, that’s probably a last resort for us.”
Owner Steve Bisciotti agrees with Newsome’s approach to preserve the Ravens’ staying power rather than take damaging measures to repeat.
“We’re more apt to create space to get a few good veterans for small amounts. That’s how Ozzie winds up putting the icing on our cake every year is we end up getting guys like (Corey) Graham and people like that that don’t cost a ton,” Bisciotti said. “So we know in order to fill a roster with professionals while waiting for young guys to develop, that last $7 million we have left is probably spent on three veterans instead of one dynamic player.
“So I’m more open to that when it comes to creating cap room because he’s done such a good job with the last guys we’ve put on the roster in the last couple of years like McKinnie and Corey Graham. That to me is not being risky. It’s being prudent. We’re going to see high-priced guys getting cut. Their team wanted to keep them. They just couldn’t.
“You talked about two years ago when we let (Todd) Heap and (Derrick) Mason and Kelly Gregg go. That stands out maybe because it stands out to you or the fans, but we were just as drastic last year. We let Haruki (Nakamura) go, we let (Tom) Zbikowski go, we let Cory Redding go, we let Jarret Johnson go, we let a Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs go. We don’t have the money for all of them.
“The two safeties went and got starting jobs with Carolina and the Colts, so we have to have guys ready to go. That’s what we do. We’ve proven it two years in a row that we can kind of shock the world and disappoint our fans at the same time by letting some of these guys go, but letting young guys fill in and getting good values on the free agent market.”
As for what the Ravens need heading into the offseason, Newsome said his biggest target is the middle of the defense.
“We think we’ve got to get better at defensive tackle. We know that we have one linebacker retiring and one that’s a free agent. We’ve got a safety that’s a free agent and some young guys that have yet to step up,” Newsome said. “So we would say the middle of the defense is probably the one area that we will concentrate on, but in saying that, we realize that pass rushers and the guys that can cover, we felt pretty good about that.
“We still need an elite pass rusher to match the guys that we have, but when we talked through it, we felt very good about we’ve got guys on the edges that can cover and cover with the best of them, and we’ve got guys that can set the edge and have some opportunity to rush through to the passer.”
Newsome said the Ravens have fewer glaring needs on offense, but will look out for everything.
“Offensively, we will not turn down a good player that is potentially available for us on the offensive side of the ball,” he said. “We just won’t do it because you can never have enough depth. We got to a point in the last two or three weeks where Anthony (Allen) and Bernard Pierce were hurt and we didn’t know if they were going to be able to play in the game.
“So we continually look for quality depth so that when we run into any issues like that, we won’t have to panic or we don’t have to go out and do something drastic.”
Newsome seemed hopeful that the Ravens can bring Reed back, even though it could be challenging to fit him in salary-wise. Newsome said the team hasn’t yet negotiated with the All-Pro safety officially.
“But unofficially, we’ve had conversations,” Newsome said. “I think he’s still representing himself still. I don’t know if he’s got an agent. But I think he wanted to let some time clear and at that point, he and I will sit down.
“I think he realizes there may be some other options out there, but I think if you watched him, if you watched his body language over the course of the last eight to 10 days that he loves being here in Baltimore and I think we can use that to help make that relationship last a little bit longer.”
The Ravens could make some decisions this offseason that many fans don’t like.
Kruger is likely to receive offers too rich for the Ravens after he recorded a career-high nine sacks during the regular season. Williams might be a goner, too, as a free agent cornerback with extensive starting experience.
Bisciotti, like Newsome, is of the mindset that Baltimore should build it right rather than sacrifice the future as it did following its first Super Bowl win.
“We’re not going to get caught up in the moment and do things to our salary cap and make decisions in the euphoria of winning that could hurt us in 2014 and 2015, like we did in 2001,” Bisciotti said. “Every single veteran (in 2001) was restructured I think so that every single veteran could stay, and then we ended up losing so many people the next year, and we don’t want to do that.
“You have to make sure that the excitement of the day doesn’t cloud what we promised to build, and that was a consistent winner. I’m just proud for Baltimore, and there is a great pressure off of us. This is what we worked for. And you know as you get closer that it’s like, if we don’t get it this time - and we felt that way last year - we’ve got to get it this time.
“When we went up to New England, we were devastated when we lost because we know how hard it is to get back there. Pittsburgh won two Super Bowls and then didn’t make the playoffs the next year. And so we’re going to try to do that. We’re going to try and build a consistent winner. We’ve got this one in the bank. Like John said, you can never take this away from us. I’m just proud for Baltimore, for everybody that gets to bask in this.”