Signing quarterback Joe Flacco to a multi-year deal before the start of free agency is important for a couple of reasons: 1) It makes the Super Bowl MVP happy and keeps him with Baltimore for years, and 2) it allows the Ravens to move forward with plans to solidify the rest of the team.
Flacco was the most important re-signing for the Ravens, but he wasn't the only free agent of consequence. There's linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. And tackle Bryant McKinnie. And linebacker Paul Kruger, cornerback Cary Williams and, oh yeah, safety Ed Reed.
All are starters, with Ellerbe the most significant of the group. The Ravens consider him a key piece of their defense and envision him stepping into Ray Lewis' role as a premier inside linebacker.
Bottom line: They will do what they can to retain him and are expected to move on him next.
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But what about the others? It's anyone's guess, with the Ravens hoping to keep the popular Kruger, who played so effectively down the stretch. Most persons expect Williams to leave, especially with the return of Lardarius Webb. Then there's McKinnie, who helped stabilize Baltimore's offensive line once he stepped in at left tackle, allowing Michael Oher to move to the right side.
Reed is another mystery, though you'd expect him to follow Lewis' lead when he became an unrestricted free agent several years ago and re-signed with the club. It wasn't that Lewis gained the big bucks then; it was that he solidified his legacy, able to retain his role as team leader, retire with the organization that drafted him and leave as a local hero.
Keeping Flacco off the market was a no-brainer. The Ravens could've protected him as a non-exclusive franchise player -- thereby running the risk of another club courting him -- or as an exclusive franchise player, which would have cost the club $19.1 million next season.
Early reports indicate Flacco becomes the highest-paid player in league history, but I want a breakdown of the contract to understand its cap implications. Flacco's contract isn't important so much for what it means for the rest of the league as what it means for the rest of the Baltimore Ravens -- and figure on Baltimore doing what's right to keep the club a playoff contender.
The Ravens gain the benefit of the doubt when it comes to personnel moves, with a series of smart and calculated moves to retain the club's best players. Yes, they failed to retain free agents in the past, but tell me which of them went on to more success elsewhere. Jamal Lewis? Adalius Thomas? Gary Baxter? Todd Heap? Jarret Johnson? I think you get the idea.
The Ravens have a plan, and locking down Flacco first was part of it. But it was just the first step. There are others that must be made between now and the start of free agency. With Flacco's contract out of the way, the Ravens can get started.