The Baltimore Ravens were built to win now, which is why it's no surprise the team is running into contract issues. Beginning this offseason, the Ravens will have several core players seeking big-money deals within the next year.
Starting quarterback Joe Flacco brought the issue to the forefront this past weekend when he expressed disappointment with playing out the fourth year of his rookie contract in 2011. Flacco, who is signed for two more years, has led Baltimore to three consecutive playoff appearances and set career highs in yards (3,622), touchdowns (25) and passer rating (93.6) last season. It's understandable that Flacco has his sights set on a new deal. But looking at Baltimore's big picture, it's also easy to see why the team wants to wait until 2012.
This year alone, the Ravens have to re-sign one of the biggest free agents available in Pro Bowl defensive lineman Haloti Ngata. He was given the franchise tag, but it's unknown if the tag will stick when the new collective bargaining agreement is reached. Either way, the Ravens plan to make Ngata one of the highest-paid players at his position. That will not leave much for the team to hand out big-money deals to outside free agents, let alone Flacco.
Baltimore also has decisions to make on the rest of its 2011 free-agent class, which includes cornerback Josh Wilson, safety Dawan Landry, fullback Le'Ron McClain, cornerback Chris Carr and offensive tackle Jared Gaither. Backup running back Willis McGahee also is expected to be released, and the Ravens will attempt to bring him back at a lower rate. In addition to Ngata, the Ravens will spend money to keep some of these veterans.
Things will get even more tricky in 2012 when players like Flacco and starting tailback Ray Rice will be looking to cash in. Flacco is not expected to play out the fifth year of his rookie deal and Rice, a 2008 second-round draft pick, is wrapping up his four-year contract. Those two deals alone will take up much of Baltimore's resources next offseason. Key veterans such as guard Ben Grubbs and linebacker Jarret Johnson also will be part of the 2012 free-agent class.
The Ravens should once again be a contender next season. But with such a talented roster, it will be difficult to financially keep this entire group together for multiple years. Aging leaders such as linebacker Ray Lewis (35) and safety Ed Reed (32) also will not be around forever, which is why Baltimore needs to take advantage of this window and try to make another Super Bowl run.