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The Ravens’ offseason is hazy to say the least.
The team has 26 potential free agents, including 17 unrestricted. They have 17 players (about one-third of the roster) who are 30 years or older.
And with the potential for a lockout looming, nobody knows when teams will be able to start re-signing players or bringing in free agents.
“It’s very uncertain,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “I don’t know in some ways how it’s all going to work.”
But Harbaugh does have a hunch.
After going through the teams’ final Monday morning meeting, Harbaugh left feeling “really encouraged” about where his team is heading.
“I’m very confident that we can make it look very similar,” the head coach said.
The Ravens reached the divisional round of the playoffs for a third straight season. The team felt it had a legitimate shot at winning the Super Bowl this year.
But how many of the players will still be around for another run next season?
“I think I can say with confidence that we’re going to try to get back as many of these guys as we can. We like our players,” Harbaugh said.
“I think these [players] want to be here. I think [General Manager] Ozzie [Newsome], [President] Dick [Cass] and [Owner] Steve [Bisciotti] are committed to bringing back as many of them as we can and I think we have the means to do it.”
There could be a new salary cap for the 2011 offseason, but Harbaugh expressed confidence that the Ravens can achieve their goals and stay under.
Another wrinkle is that free agency, which generally begins in March, may not begin until after April’s NFL Draft if there isn’t a new collective bargaining agreement in place.
Harbaugh felt that could be a good thing for the Ravens, who are historically good drafters. Baltimore could fill in the roster with young talent before sizing up its needs in the free agent market.
The Ravens have a history of retaining restricted free agents. They tendered all 17 of theirs last season, although they did later trade some to cut down the roster. Baltimore re-signed just one of its unrestricted free agents (wide receiver Derrick Mason) last year, but parted with just one starter (defensive end Dwan Edwards, Buffalo).
This year, the Ravens have seven starters and two specialists among their unrestricted free agents.
The starters include defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, offensive tackle Marshal Yanda, guard/center Chris Chester, fullback Le’Ron McClain, safety Dawan Landry and cornerbacks Chris Carr and Josh Wilson. Kicker Billy Cundiff and punter Sam Koch’s contracts are also up.
While many of the players expressed their desire to return, they realized it’s unlikely that everybody will be back for the 2011-12 season.
“It will definitely be a different team,” Carr said. “You wish everybody could come back, but that’s not the nature of the business.”
But Carr wishes that weren’t the case.
“This year, even compared to last season with the Ravens, the team chemistry we have with the players and the unity, you can’t get that too many places,” he said.
As far as retirements, Harbaugh said no players brought it up to him in their Monday meeting. He is anticipating a return from safety Ed Reed and linebacker Ray Lewis wouldn’t entertain a question of hanging up his cleats.
Center Matt Birk and Mason left their status open, saying they want to return to their families before thinking about whether to play next season.
“I’m sure when they get to this stage, guys always have to think about that every year,” Harbaugh said. “I’ll keep my fingers crossed that they don’t.”
Below is the full list of the potential free agents.
Unrestricted: QB Marc Bulger; LB Prescott Burgess; CB Chris Carr; G-C Chris Chester; K Billy Cundiff; OT Jared Gaither; LS Kevin Houser; WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh; P Sam Koch; SS Dawan Landry; FB Le’Ron McClain; OT Tony Moll; DT Haloti Ngata; WR Donte’ Stallworth; CB Fabian Washington; CB Josh Wilson; and OT-G Marshal Yanda.
Restricted: OT Oniel Cousins; DT Lamar Divens; LB Tavares Gooden; LB Jameel McClain; FS Haruki Nakamura; RB Jalen Parmele; WR Marcus Smith; DT Kelly Talavou; and SS Tom Zbikowski.