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OWINGS MILLS — An exit strategy appears to be unfolding between All-Pro linebacker Adalius Thomas and the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens donâ€™t seem to have the necessary room under the salary cap to make Thomas their franchise player. It’s a $7.2 million price tag that would require cutting former Pro Bowl running back Jamal Lewis and, possibly others, or restructuring contracts to clear enough space.
No move is afoot on any of those fronts at this time, according to Lewis’ agent and other veterans’ representatives. Lewis is likely to be cut before a $5 million roster bonus is due March 3.
The Ravens are reportedly between $3.3 million and $3.6 million under the salary cap limit of $109 million. The league deadline to designate Thomas with the franchise tag is Feb. 22 at 4 p.m. Meanwhile, team officials havenâ€™t been negotiating with Thomasâ€™ agent, Bus Cook, on a long-term contract extension.
â€œI havenâ€™t really had any communication with them at this time,â€ Cook said in a telephone interview. â€œA.D. would like to stay in Baltimore, but you got to do what you go to do and teams have to do what they have to do. Itâ€™s a business. Thatâ€™s the way it goes.â€
Thomas would become an unrestricted free agent if the team doesnâ€™t franchise him by next week, a hefty cost that would pay him the average of the top five linebacker salaries and make him the highest paid player on the Ravens next year.
If Thomas makes it to the open market, heâ€™s expecting a major financial windfall that could include a signing bonus in excess of $12 million.
â€œI would think A.D. would be at the top of most teamsâ€™ lists,â€ Cook said of the former sixth-round pick from Southern Mississippi who has 28 sacks and four interceptions over the past three seasons.
It would be hard for the Ravens to compete financially with potential Thomas suitors that have a lot of salary cap flexibility like the San Francisco 49ers ($37.6 million), New England Patriots ($26.6 million), Cleveland Browns ($26.6 million) and Green Bay Packers ($24.8 million).
"The market sets itself every year,â€ Thomas told ESPN on Thursday. â€œHopefully, Baltimore will step up and get the deal done so I can retire a Baltimore Raven.
â€œBut it’s still a business. They’re going to do what’s best for them, and I got to do what is best for me."
The Ravens have other concerns, including: trying to retain other free agents like fullback Ovie Mughelli, offensive tackle Tony Pashos or hard-nosed reserve outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, a potential replacement for Thomas, keeping restricted free agents like return specialist B.J. Sams while leaving enough money for their rookie pool.
It’s considered doubtful that Pashos will be back based on his strong season and the high price he could command due to a thin free agent class of tackles.
Thomas will turn 30 before next season. The Ravens said they haven’t decided whether or not to franchise the versatile 6-foot-2, 270-pounder, but general manager Ozzie Newsome has made it clear that the team â€œwonâ€™t mortgage its future,â€ to keep the roster intact.
If the Ravens cut Lewis, whoâ€™s due a $5 million base salary next season, they would be able to reduce his cap figure from $11.6 million to $3.3 million against the 2007 salary cap for a savings of $8.3 million. Even that might not be enough, though.
During the interview on ESPN’s Cold Pizza, Thomas acknowledged that the teamâ€™s opportunity to win another Super Bowl is shrinking.
â€œWith this team, I think you have a one-to-two year window tops because you have older guys — like Jonathan Ogden, Ray [Lewis] and Steve McNair — who are the key guys," Thomas said. "But they’re still playing at a high level."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland