What to do with Baltimore's linebackers?

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Now that it's official that Baltimore Ravens linebacker-defensive end Terrell Suggs will report to camp Sunday, let's look ahead to the future and play the role of general manager Ozzie Newsome.

You have three great players in Suggs, Ray Lewis and Bart Scott in the fold who are the centerpieces of your defense. They're all playing the linebacker position and, most importantly, the trio will be unrestricted free agents in 2009.

So what's your next move, virtual GM?

Let's establish this right away: It will be extremely difficult for the Ravens to re-sign all three. Ideally, keeping two would be considered a victory for Baltimore next offseason.

So with that in mind, here are some possibilities:

  • Under the salary cap, the Ravens could conceivably franchise Suggs again and give Lewis a long-term extension. Lewis, 33, says he wants to play three or four more years, and Baltimore would love to have its future Hall of Famer retire as a life-long Raven. Lewis also brings a level of emotional leadership that makes him very valuable to Baltimore, and that will definitely factor into the negotiations. Suggs, on the other hand, may not enjoy the lack of long-term security. But he will make $8.5 million this year by being "tagged," and could make approximately $10.2 if Baltimore does it again next year. Therefore, making just under $19 million in guaranteed money over two years is not a bad option for Suggs. But this scenario would leave Scott as the odd man out.

  • The Ravens also could flip it next year and franchise Lewis, while signing Suggs to a long-term extension. The team was very close to getting Suggs signed long term before training camp, so the two sides won't have far to go to reach a deal next offseason. Because of Lewis' age, Baltimore might want to keep him on a one-year basis and go from there. Again, this would let Scott flee to free agency.

  • Baltimore also could make Lewis the odd man out and give Suggs and Scott the extensions. Scott would command the least money of the three, so it's possible the team could give long-term deals to both Scott and Suggs. Another related scenario here is to sign Scott long term and franchise Suggs if the two sides are unable to reach a deal.

  • The Ravens also could let Suggs flee to free agency and keep Lewis and Scott. This appears to be the least likely scenario. Suggs is in his prime at age 25 and, as evident by the franchise tag, the Ravens desperately want to keep him.

Like many teams in this situation, the Ravens will let it play out. What is a certainty, however, is the team has all three players healthy and ready to win games in 2008.

But these scenarios have to weigh heavily in the back of Newsome's mind. The wheels in Ravens headquarters have to be churning about how to handle this quandary six or seven months from now.