NEW ORLEANS -- Baltimore owner Steve Bisciotti isn't concerned about re-signing Joe Flacco, saying he's "very optimistic" the Ravens can work out a deal with the quarterback that will keep him with them "for the next 10 years."
The question, of course, is: What kind of deal?
Flacco's agent, Joe Linta, has referred to his client as "a top-five elite quarterback," which would put him in the Drew Brees-Peyton Manning-Tom Brady neighborhood ... or a contract that pays approximately $19 million-$20 million annually.
There's a feeling that Baltimore might not be willing to go that high, which means the Ravens would protect him by making him their franchise player while they continue to negotiate.
But that doesn't have Bisciotti flummoxed, nor does the size of a potential long-term deal.
"I was made aware that he and his agent were real close with Ozzie [Newsome, the team's GM]," said Bisciotti, "and I think Ozzie has always come through and gotten the job done. We've never lost a great, great player -- a franchise player -- going back to the beginning. I'm just very comfortable it will get done.
"It will just take time, and we have the franchise tag available. So it won't be a March drop-or-dead; it will be a July drop-or-dead. And I trust Ozzie that he and Joe Linta will come to an agreement that Joe's happy with and I'm happy with."
Flacco's contract will expire in March, and the deadline for working out an extension for players with a franchise tag is July 16. The franchise tag for quarterbacks is $14.6 million, which represents a substantial increase from Flacco's current deal. But he wants a long-term contract, with the Ravens believed to be interested in a five-year deal that could pay him $17 million-$18 million annually.
What happens next could determine how Baltimore shapes next year's roster. The Ravens have a number of unrestricted free agents to re-sign, including linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger and safety Ed Reed. There's a fear that if a long-term deal with Flacco isn't struck by March, it could cause the Ravens to lose players that they'd like to keep.
While Bisciotti acknowledged that's a possibility, he didn't sound concerned.
"The difference between [Flacco's] numbers and Ozzie's numbers are enough for a backup safety in the difference of the thing," he said. "What I talked to Ozzie about is that we have a franchise quarterback, and he's going to get franchise money.
"That 'franchise money' thing is about as hard to define as the word 'elite' that we've had to dissect a hundred different ways. The bottom line is we have our quarterback for the next 10 years, and we're going to ride Joe.
"I find myself very optimistic about this, and I said to Ozzie that if we're forced to build our salary cap around a franchise number, all it's going to do is force us the discipline that is going to be on us soon, anyway. If you do the deal, you can spread out the signing bonus and it will cost us less on our books than the $14.6 [million] franchise. But three years later, it's not. By his third year, the paragraph five and the prorated signing bonus are going to be more than the franchise tag. So you only get that reduction for a couple of years.
"So I kind of look at it as forced financial management. If we're forced to carry Joe on a franchise number, will it cost us a player or two? Yes, it will. But if we're going to be in that situation the next eight years, then if we have to do it this year. As far as I'm concerned, it's a good dry run. I think it's a good problem to have. And if nothing else, it will discipline us to know what's coming instead of just stretching it out."
Bisciotti also said he didn't know what the future of Reed is, saying he thinks both sides need time to figure it out. Reed indicated this week that he wants to continue playing, but he becomes a free agent ... and there's no guarantee he'll be back with Baltimore.
"First, we've got to find out where Ed's head is," Bisciotti said. "I think win or lose Sunday, Ed needs a couple of weeks. By that time, we will have done our personnel meetings and our cap meetings, and we'll know what kind of deal we can make Ed. So I assume we'll make a deal like we made with Ray [Lewis] a few years ago. And if Ed wants to test the market like Ray did [when he was a free agent], that's what we have to do. "