The Ravens are attempting to lower the $6 million salary of the three-time Pro Bowl selection, and it could lead to his release by the start of the free agent signing period Tuesday if talks continue to be unsuccessful, according to league sources with knowledge of the situation.
At one point Friday the Ravens were on the verge of releasing Boldin, and he had prepared a statement thanking the fans for their support during his time in Baltimore, per a league source. However, team officials remain hopeful of working something out with Boldin, 32, who carries a $7.53 million salary-cap figure.
Because of a relatively tight salary cap, the Ravens are faced with tough decisions involving players under contract like Boldin as well as their unrestricted free agents. The Ravens have $12.263 million available under the league's salary-cap limit of $123 million, reducing their options for acquiring and retaining players.
If Boldin were to agree to reduce his salary, it would create more roster opportunities for the Ravens, who have 13 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. Outside linebacker Paul Kruger, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Cary Williams lead that list. And the Cleveland Browns have already made contact with representatives for Kruger and Ellerbe with Williams firmly on the radar of an Indianapolis Colts squad coached by former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.
The combination of their rising value on the open market, the presence of highly compensated players already under contract with the Ravens and the limitations of the salary cap tends to drive them off the roster.
Williams knows exactly where he stands with the Ravens: outside of the Super Bowl champions' budget.
"The Ravens kept it honest and as real as possible with me," Williams said. "They told me they had to address the Joe Flacco situation first and then the linebacker situation because of the uncertainty with [inside linebacker] Jameel McClain's [spinal cord bruise from December] and Ellerbe being a key component to our success. Then, after that, possibly me. So, we're playing the waiting game and hoping for the best.
"It's the cap that messed everything up. It's a part of the business. Sometimes, you lose good players and great players. That's what makes football such an exciting game because it levels the playing field. Everybody has the opportunity to add good players to their organization."
Under the collective bargaining agreement, NFL teams are assigned a precise amount of salary-cap space each year. The salary cap rose to $123 million (an increase of $2.4 million) for the 2013 fiscal year that begins Tuesday at 4 p.m.
The Ravens carried over $1.182 million from last year and recently gained $6.4 million when inside linebacker Ray Lewis and center Matt Birk retired and picked up an additional $800,000 when they terminated the final year of offensive guard Bobbie Williams' contract Friday. They're saddled with $1.8 million in dead money from former Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff, who was released before last season when he was replaced by rookie Justin Tucker.
And the Ravens have several veterans with high salary-cap figures, including outside linebacker Terrell Suggs ($13.02 million), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata ($11.5 million), Boldin, offensive guard Marshal Yanda ($7.45 million), Flacco ($6.8 million) and running back Ray Rice ($5.75 million).
Flacco, who became the highest-paid player in the NFL with a $120.6 million contract, lobbied last Monday for the Ravens to hold onto Boldin, who caught 22 passes for 380 yards and four touchdowns in the playoffs.
"I'll tell you what: Anquan was a beast in those four games," Flacco said. "It was awesome to have him out there. You guys saw some of the catches that he made, none more important than the third down against San Francisco.
"He's been a big part of this offense. He's a big part of why I'm standing here talking to you guys. [The contract] definitely increases my confidence that we'll have him back, and I hope we do."
The Ravens have another important decision to make as free safety Ed Reed is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time after the expiration of his six-year, $44.5 million contract. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has expressed confidence in his chances of working something out with Reed, a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year who still hasn't hired an agent.
The salary cap, which is managed capably by Ravens vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty, represents an annual challenge. Of the top six salary-cap figures on the books for 2013, everyone but Flacco has been selected for at least one Pro Bowl and Flacco is coming off a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player performance.
"This is what happens when you draft well and you spend up to the cap to try to keep your team together," said former sports agent Joel Corry, who writes about the business of football for National Football Post. "The Ravens are one of those organizations that knows how to evaluate talent very well with Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta.
"Like everyone around the league, the Ravens are faced with tough decisions because the reality is you can't keep everybody you want to keep. That's how the salary cap is designed. This is a hard cap. It's not like baseball."