Three years ago, the Baltimore Ravens and Joe Flacco's agent hammered out a then-record deal a week after reinitiating talks at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. Baltimore can only hope the sides could follow the same swift course starting at this year's combine, which begins next week.
Whether the Ravens can sign significant free agents to help them rebound from a 5-11 season depends on their ability to rework Flacco's contract before March 9, the start of the new league year. The Ravens have yet to talk to agent Joe Linta about Flacco's contract, but there's obviously a lot of incentive to do so soon.
The Ravens can potentially create $9 million in space by reducing Flacco's monstrous cap figure. That is a critical chunk considering Baltimore is projected to be $1 million over the cap at this point.
To put this in perspective, the Ravens can create some breathing room by releasing three players (defensive end Chris Canty, linebacker Daryl Smith and cornerback Kyle Arrington), which would free up $6.1 million. The key, though, is lowering Flacco's $28.55 million cap number, which accounts for 18.4 percent of Baltimore's cap and ranks as the third-highest cap figure behind Drew Brees and Ndamukong Suh.
If the Ravens can cut Flacco's cap number to $19 million -- which is what owner Steve Bisciotti once suggested last year -- Baltimore can make a run at a much-needed veteran wide receiver, pass-rusher, cornerback or left tackle. If the Ravens and Flacco can't strike a new deal, Baltimore will be a spectator in free agency just a couple of months after finishing up its worst season under coach John Harbaugh.
The pressure is on the Ravens to convince Flacco to rework his deal. He's scheduled to make $58.6 million over the final three years of his current deal, and Baltimore will have to pay him more over that span in order to make it worth his while.
One could argue that it's in Flacco's best interest to rework his deal because it allows the Ravens to put the best supporting cast around him, and Flacco acknowledged as much a month ago.
"Come on, I want to win, so I want to do everything we can to get something done," Flacco said in late January. "I don't know exactly what that is or exactly what that's going to be because we haven't talked about it yet. But I know that that's a huge number and it's not really realistic."
This predicament doesn't come as a surprise. The Ravens knew they would have to address Flacco's ballooning cap number three years into his six-year, $120.6 million deal. His cap number nearly doubled from the previous year.
Still, at the Ravens' season-ending news conference, general manager Ozzie Newsome curiously said the team could put together a roster and not necessarily have to redo Flacco's contract "if we are strategic enough." But the Ravens would be severely restricted in free agency if they carried Flacco's current cap number given that Baltimore is projected to be over the cap after you factor in the franchise tag on kicker Justin Tucker ($4.5 million) and a second-round tender on restricted free agent Kamar Aiken ($2.5 million).
Flacco's contract is once again Baltimore's biggest issue of the offseason, just like it was three years ago. In 2013, the Ravens were focused on doing everything in their power to keep their franchise quarterback. Now, Baltimore is looking for some help from Flacco before March 9 in order to improve the team around him.