There are a number of factors which will limit the Ravens' attempts to upgrade their roster via free agency or trade this offseason.
Barring a shocking late implementation of a new collective bargaining agreement prior to the March 5th deadline, the 2010 season will be uncapped.
That will mean that fewer players will be unrestricted free agents this offseason (players will now need six years of service time to become UFAs as compared to the previous four), and teams might be more likely to hang onto their restricted free agents and veterans with higher salaries.
On top of that, the Ravens will have to deal with another roadblock as they try and bolster their squad leading into next season - the Final Eight Plan.
Let's get into some of the details of that bad boy, shall we?
The Final Eight Plan will affect the eight teams that made it to the Divisional Round of the playoffs this season (hence the name) and is intended to reduce the ability of the rich to get richer in an uncapped year.
There are even more restrictions on the four teams that made the AFC and NFC Championship games, but since we're worried about the Ravens here, I'll give some bullet points on how the final eight teams will be affected.
- The Final Eight can sign one UFA for each of their UFAs signed by another team.
- That sounds all well and good, but there's a catch - the salaries of the UFA that is lost and the UFA that is added must be comparable. For example, if another team signs TE L.J. Smith (yes, he was a Raven this season, believe it or not), the Ravens would not be able to go sign DE Julius Peppers and call it even.
- In addition to the UFAs that sign elsewhere, the Final Eight can sign only one UFA with a contract of an estimated $5.5 million or more in the first year with specific per year increases.
- Also in addition to the UFAs that sign elsewhere, the Final Eight can sign an unlimited amount of free agents with a first-year salary under an estimated $3.7 million with limitations on per year increases.
- The Final Eight will not be allowed to trade for a player that they would be unable to sign based on the above restrictions.
One point worth noting - players who have been released by their previous teams (also known as "street free agents") are fair game. There are no restrictions when it comes to those guys.
The Ravens will have six unrestricted free agents: WR Derrick Mason, WR Kelley Washington, WR David Tyree, DT Justin Bannan, DE Dwan Edwards and Smith.
As a result, unless Mason signs elsewhere (which seems highly unlikely), GM Ozzie Newsome will only be able to bring in one UFA with a mid to high-range salary this offseason.
If you're expecting a big splash from the Ravens prior to the draft, you might want to think again.