NEW ORLEANS – The runner-up San Francisco 49ers are younger than the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and look like they’re set up for a better shot at a run for the NFL title next season.
Baltimore General Manager Ozzie Newsome has a lot of work to do this offseason.
His quarterback, Joe Flacco, has a contract that’s about to run out, and Flacco just won the Most Valuable Player award in leading the Ravens to a dramatic, 34-31 victory over the 49ers.
Flacco is set to become a free agent in March, but he’s not going anywhere. The Ravens can put a franchise tag on him that would guarantee him a one-year contract worth about $14.6 million in 2013. Nevertheless, the Ravens know they need to work out a long-term deal for the 28-year-old Flacco.
It’s likely to cost them more than $100 million. That’s roughly the going rate for an elite, young QB. Denver’s Peyton Manning makes $19.2 million a year. New Orleans’ Drew Brees signed a five-year deal before the season for an average of $20 million a year.
The Ravens tried to sign Flacco to an extension before the season but couldn’t come to an agreement.
“It’s real simple,” Flacco said last week. “We didn’t agree on a number and I didn’t really care to discuss it any further once it got to that point. … It was really never a concern of mine and I never really thought about it.”
At his MVP news conference Monday, Flacco said: “This is a great organization. I love being here. It’s a great city. I don’t anticipate any problems.’”
Flacco’s deal will eat up a lot of cash in a year in which the NFL’s salary cap is expected to remain flat. There is speculation the Ravens may need to make a substantial cut or two, such as receiver Anquan Boldin, in order to get under the cap.
The Ravens have a big hole to fill at middle linebacker with the retirement of Ray Lewis. Their All-Pro safety, Ed Reed, is 34 and is contemplating retirement.
Baltimore’s best pass rusher, Paul Kruger, also is a free agent and is headed for a big payday after a nine-sack season. The Ravens’ most veteran pass rusher, Terrell Suggs, is 30 and showing signs of age. Baltimore’s quality nose tackle, Ma’ake Kemoeatu, also is a free agent, as are cornerback Cary Williams and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.
One good thing for the Ravens: Newsome is great at drafting and identifying value free agents.
The 49ers have a little less on their offseason plate. Their top free agents are Pro Bowl free safety Dashon Goldson, nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga and No. 2 tight end Delanie Walker.
Receiver Randy Moss is due to turn 36 this month and could retire. But the 49ers have two receivers set to return next year from injured reserve – Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams.
The Niners also figure to get even better at quarterback. Colin Kaepernick was sensational after taking over for Alex Smith as the starter with seven games to go in the regular season. The future couldn’t be much brighter for Kaepernick, who is 25 and entering just his third season.
Smith is a bargaining chip for the 49ers, and they could turn him into a draft pick. He is due to make $8.5 million next season. Niners owner Jed York said last week the team could fit his salary under their cap if needed. However, reports indicate San Francisco will try to work a trade for the former starter.
Seventeen of the Niners’ 22 starters are under 30 years old.