Given the potential money Brown might command as an unrestricted free agent in a market where several teams are looking for an interior player capable of playing both center and guard, it seems like a long shot, barring a sudden change, that Brown will return.
Brown said he’s intent on doing everything possible to remain with the Ravens. However, his potential earning power may not match up with the Ravens’ financial plans.
"I would love to stay with the Ravens," Brown said in a telephone interview from his North Carolina home. "I would like to feel as though my stock is pretty high on the team. There are other options out there. I’m not going to be afraid to say that, but I would love to stay with the Ravens. At the same time, I do have a family I love very much as well and my first responsibility as a father and as a husband is loyalty to my family.
"I have prayed about it instead of worrying about, ‘Do the Ravens want me back? Will they re-sign me?’ I’m not going to do that. I’m going to know I’ve done everything possible to determine the outcome of my future. I’m very confident and I have a lot of faith that the personnel with the Ravens and my agent will be able to work something out."
If Brown, who started a total of 28 games at left guard in 2007 and 2006 before starting every game at center last season, is seeking upper-echelon guard money, then it will be extremely hard to keep him on the roster.
A year ago, the New York Jets signed Alan Faneca to a five-year, $40 million contract that included $21 million in guaranteed money. Two years ago, the Cleveland Browns signed guard Eric Steinbach to a seven-year, $49.5 million contract with $17 million guaranteed.
It’s a matter of fact in NFL circles that centers traditionally make a lot less money than guards.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are paying center Jeff Faine a total of $37.5 million on a six-year pact, including $15 million in guaranteed money. It’s the richest center contract in NFL history and it’s still less than the going rate for guards.
With the Ravens set at left guard and right guard with starters Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda, who’s expected to recover fully from a major knee injury suffered last year, the obvious spot for Brown is to stay at center. It’s expected that Baltimore will want to pay the former fourth-round draft pick from North Carolina like a center.
"In the past few years, guards have stepped above the centers," Brown said. "In the early 2000’s, centers were making more than guards. Different positions go through different cycles.
"As far as a preference, center is what I’m most comfortable with now. If I had to go back to guard, it would take me a little while to knock the rust off. I feel like I’m a true center-guard."
If Brown does test free agency, it’s believed that the Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins and the Jacksonville Jaguars are among the teams that would have an interest in him.
When asked specifically by reporters at the NFL scouting combine if there was a concern about being able to keep Brown on the team, general manager Ozzie Newsome acknowledged the possibility that the team may lose some players.
“My philosophy has always been right player, right price," Newsome said. "We do a good job of putting a value on what we think that player is worth for us. We always feel like we’re willing to pay more for our players than other people will.
"But over the past few years, we have lost players because they’ve had the opportunity to help their families by making a lot of money. I always tell the players that we put a value on it, and if there is a chance for them to go out and help their families, then go do it. I’ll see them four or five years from now, and we can still be friends.”
Plus, the prospect of an uncapped year in 2010 because of the NFL owners’ decision to opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement is affecting contract talks around the league.
"It’s going to be a little difficult this year, you have to be a little more creative," said Harold Lewis, Brown’s agent. "Jason would love to be back. I’ve got a lot of respect for the Ravens and nothing would make me happier than for Jason to stay there. What we wish for and what’s the reality may not be the same thing."
The Ravens have other high-profile unrestricted free agents they’re in discussions with, including star middle linebacker Ray Lewis and inside linebacker Bart Scott.
Those talks, particularly ongoing negotiations with Lewis’ agents, will likely affect Brown’s status.
"Obviously, I know Ray Lewis is a higher priority than Jason Brown," Brown said. "That’s just common sense. Ray is just that franchise type of player. We’ve got to direct all our attention to this man before we can go down our list of priorities. I would love to see Ray start and finish his career as a Raven, but he’s earned the right to do what he wants."
If Brown leaves, the Ravens could plug in former second-round draft pick Chris Chester, who made significant progress last season as a replacement for Yanda, as the starting center.
After starting 45 games for the Ravens, including 32 games in the past two seasons, and helping the Ravens make it to the AFC title game last season, Brown remains hopeful about getting to stay in Baltimore. However, he’s also aware of the reality that it might not happen.
"We accomplished so many great things this past year that I feel as though it’s just the beginning," Brown said. "Even though we made it so far, it’s just the foundation. I feel like there’s unfinished business and I would love to continue what we’ve been working on. It’s tough.
"I feel as though I’ve made too many sacrifices to leave or want to go somewhere else. There’s a personal aspect to it. I’ve made so many life-long relationships. The Ravens have a wonderful organization. You hear so many horror stories around the league about staph infections or whatever. I’m praying that I get to stay."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.