Holding pattern for Ravens' free agents as Joe Flacco talks continue

As the Ravens continue to haggle with quarterback Joe Flacco, their other unrestricted free agents remain in a holding pattern.

The Ravens have had positive talks about starting inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and will continue to hold discussions, according to his agent.

The Super Bowl champions met with Ellerbe's agent at the NFL scouting combine last week, but aren't expected to resume talks with him until later this week.

It's unlikely that any deals will be struck, if at all, until there's some kind of resolution with Flacco -- either him becoming the Ravens' franchise player, exclusive ($19.6 million) or nonexclusive ($14.6 million), by a March 4 NFL deadline, or him being signed to a blockbuster long-term contract.

Once the domino involving Flacco falls and the salary cap for the 2013 fiscal year is settled, the Ravens will know just how tight their salary-cap situation is going to be and what level they can go to as far as trying to retain free agents.

That includes unrestricted free agents like Ellerbe, outside linebacker Paul Kruger, cornerback Cary Williams and offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, as well as a group of restricted free agents headlined by tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson and defensive lineman Arthur Jones.

The Ravens are expected to try to hold onto Ellerbe, allow Kruger and Williams to go to free agency, where they're expected to command good offers, and monitor the market for McKinnie, 33, who's facing tough competition for dollars from a strong group of available offensive tackles.

McKinnie's preference is to stay with the Ravens, according to his agent, but there's been no movement toward that happening at this time.

"There have been no discussions with the Ravens," McKinnie's agent, Michael George, told The Baltimore Sun. "It's just like the other players around the league where Flacco is the main negotiation going on aside from Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, solely for salary-cap purpuses. Most players go to free agency. You negotiate with the existing club if you can.

"Bryant's preference is to come back to Baltimore, but it's got to be a market-value deal. They're as smart as any organization, so I have no doubts about the Ravens. But, if Bryant leaves, it won't be because of us. We just want him to get a fair agreement."

McKinnie revitalized his career in the playoffs after being replaced at left tackle prior to the start of the regular season and taking a $1 million cut in pay, allowing just two sacks in four starts as the Ravens won the Super Bowl.

In 418 snaps for the entire season, McKinnie graded out at a plus-5.6 with three sacks and seven quarterback hits allowed with one penalty, according to Pro Football Focus.

"Why would you change the offensive line after they won the Super Bowl?" George said. "You have a great offensive line closing all the gaps. It was incredible, the way they made big plays and had the ability to score whenever they had to. It's not something that's replicated easily.

"My take is they will do everything they can to try to keep the offense and defense together as much as possible. Most players who are free agents go into free agency. Some leave, some sign with their existing clubs. We hope that will happen with Bryant."

During the Ravens' season-ending news conference, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome indicated that the team was impressed by how he performed at the end of the season.

"BMac is a free agent, I think the way he played down the stretch against [Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker Dwight] Freeney, against [Denver Broncos outside linebacker Elvis] Dumervil, against [San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker] Aldon Smith, I think it makes a statement for him," Newsome said. "I think he has a decision to make as to whether he wants to come back and play here."

George said McKinnie remains in the 345-pound range, at least as of a week ago, and has been working out down in South Florida.

"I saw him before the combine and he looked terrific," George said. "He's working out with his trainer and getting ready."

It's been extremely quiet for both Kruger, who led the Ravens with a career-high nine sacks, and Williams, who intercepted a career-high four passes after declining a three-year, $15 million offer prior to last season.

Kruger could get offers in the $40 million range as a top pass rusher who recorded 4 1/2 sacks in the playoffs, including two in the Super Bowl of San Francsico 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Williams is expected to be much more expensive as a free agent now that he's coming off a season with 75 tackles, four interceptions and 17 pass deflections.

However, the Ravens aren't expected to try to match high offers for Williams.

That's because they already have the following cornerbacks under contract for next season: starters Lardarius Webb, who's coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and Corey Graham, who intercepted Peyton Manning twice in the playoffs, and solid backups in Jimmy Smith and Chykie Brown.

"Cary elevated himself," agent Harold Lewis said. "Cary played like he was possessed. Look at how he played against Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady. Then, in the Super Bowl, he does it again. I don't think Cary has come even close to peaking.

"I love his intensity on the field. He's special out there. He gives it everything he's got. The kid's a winner. He would love to stay in Baltimore if something can be worked out. You just do the best you can with this kind of situation."

awilson@baltsun.com

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