OWINGS MILLS — In the next few days, the Baltimore Ravens’ fax machine will begin to heat up.
And it will start delivering tenders to the Ravens’ large list of restricted free agents.
For the Ravens, it’s an annual task that has multiplied in importance and volume because of the increased amount of restricted free agents due to the new rules governing free agency because of the advent of an uncapped year and the uncertain future created by the ongoing labor dispute between the NFL owners the players’ union.
As of Monday night, all of the players’ representatives contacted by 24×7 remain in a holding pattern and are still waiting to see what level of tender the Ravens will be assigning.
That includes punter Sam Koch, who’s expected to receive a second-round tender of $1.76 million.
“I haven’t heard back from the Ravens yet, but Sam loves it in Baltimore,” said agent Steve Mudder, who represents Koch. “He’s got three kids in school there. I would be surprised if he doesn’t get the second-round tender, and we haven’t ruled out a long-term deal.
“I think the team knows he loves it there and we’ll do something good for both parties. I think the uncertainty of the labor deal affects things. In my heart of hearts, I think Sam could be in the Pro Bowl eventually.”
Including Koch, the Ravens have 17 players scheduled to become restricted free agents. The Ravens have until Thursday afternoon’s NFL deadline to assign the tenders or the player becomes an unrestricted free agent.
A restricted free agent is a player whose status is defined by having an expired contract and having four or five years of service in the league.
The Ravens retain the right of first refusal. If another team signed a player to an offer sheet, the Ravens would have seven days to match the offer sheet.
If they opted not to match, the Ravens would receive corresponding compensation depending on what level of tender was assigned. It ranges from the high tender of a first-round and a third-round pick ($3.043 million for fourth-year players and $3.168 million for fifth-year pros), the first-round tender ($2.396 million and $2.521 million), second round tender ($1.684 million and $1.759 million) and the low tender ($1.101 million and $1.176 million).
Low tender players carry the same draft pick compensation as the round they were originally selected in.
Here’s a look at what the Ravens are likely to do with their restricted free agents:
Offensive tackle Jared Gaither is expected to receive either the high tender or the first-round tender. He’s regarded as a valuable young starter that the team won’t want to risk losing.
Koch is very likely to get the second-round tender.
Pro Bowl fullback Le’Ron McClain will probably receive the first-round tender or second-rounder tender. Since some NFL teams are high on McClain and it’s an uncapped year, the higher first-round tender of $700,000 more makes sense.
Cornerback Fabian Washington is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but the former Oakland Raiders first-round pick is expected to get the second-round tender with a salary of $1.887 million since he made $1.715 million last season.
It’s unlikely that another team would sign Washington given his health status.
They can assign him a second-round tender, but have to pay him at least $1.887 million because his 2009 salary was $1.715 million. Under the NFL rules, his restricted tender has to equal 110 percent of his previous year’s salary.
There’s also an upgraded tender rule to consider that would come into effect because of Gaither.
It’s a provision that protects first-round and second-round picks from getting the low tender salary while still being protected at the original draft round they were selected in.
Wide receiver Mark Clayton is likely to get the first-round tender.
He was paid $2.09 million last year, so he has to make at least $2.299 million next season. It’s a cost of just $222,000 more than the Ravens have to pay.
The Ravens will likely use the second-round tender on strong safety Dawan Landry. Going with the low tender since Landry was a fifth-round draft pick could cause him to be attractive to another team.
Offensive guard Marshal Yanda could get the second-round tender or the low tender because he was a third-round draft pick. The Ravens are unlikely to risk another team being willing to give up a third-round pick in exchange for this hard-nosed blocker.
Quarterback Troy Smith has requested a trade through his agent, but there’s little indication that he has any value around the league.
As a former fifth-round pick, the Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State could get the low tender or second-round tender. The Ravens like Smith as a backup, probably enough to justify a second-round tender rather than lose him for only a fifth-round pick in return.
Several players are expected to get the low tender, including quarterback John Beck (second round pick), offensive guard Chris Chester (second-round pick), offensive tackle Adam Terry (second-round pick), linebacker Antwan Barnes (fourth-round pick) and tight end Edgar Jones (undrafted).
Jones is also a potential candidate to not be tendered and be offered a veteran minimum deal.
In the case of Beck, Terry and Chester, the Ravens would only receive a third-round pick because of the upgraded tender rule if they signed with another team and the Ravens didn’t match.
Kicker Billy Cundiff is a former undrafted free agent and will likely get the low tender.
The Ravens are considered unlikely to retain underachieving former fourth-round wide receiver Demetrius Williams and offensive tackle Tony Moll (fifth-round pick).
They might not assign a tender to reserve linebacker and special-teams contributor Prescott Burgess, but there are indications they could offer him a veteran minimum deal.
Restricted free agent deals aren’t guaranteed and include no signing bonuses.
NOTE: The Ravens have informed unrestricted free agent wide receivers Derrick Mason and Kelley Washington, defensive end Dwan Edwards, defensive tackle Justin Bannan and cornerback Frank Walker that they want them back. With the exception of Mason, there haven’t been any preliminary contract discussions. Mason is seeking a two-year deal with a lot of upfront money.