OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As the Baltimore Ravens welcomed back several players to their training complex, the main topic of conversation centered around the pending departure of four prominent players.
Running back Willis McGahee, former Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap, wide receiver Derrick Mason and nose guard Kelly Gregg have been told they will but cut, coach John Harbaugh confirmed Tuesday.
"It's just the reality of the salary cap," Harbaugh said. "It's the situation we're in now, and going forward we've got to try to make the best team we can."
McGahee , the backup to Ray Rice last year, was slated to make $6 million in 2011. Heap is the Ravens' all-time leader in receiving touchdowns (41) and ranks second in receptions (467) and career receiving yards (5,492), but he's played 10 years and last season missed three games with a hamstring injury.
Gregg is 34 and been banged around in the trenches for 11 seasons. Mason is 37, hardly an ideal age for an NFL wide receiver — even if he leads the Ravens in career catches (471) and yards (5,777).
The moves, which become official Thursday afternoon, will save Baltimore an estimated $18.6 million in salary-cap money. There is still a chance that a few of the players will be asked to return at a lesser price.
"In this climate, anything's possible," Harbaugh said. "You may have an opportunity to bring some of those guys back. You may not. It just depends on how things shake out the next couple of days."
The Ravens have put a priority on retaining offensive tackle Marshal Yanda and also must decide whether to spend money retaining their own players or pick from the hundreds of free agents available over the next several days.
"It's going to be unpredictable," Harbaugh said. "The market is going to be flooded with players unlike anything that's happened in the history of the National Football League. We've got to do everything we can to improve our team, and we're going to need a little space to do that."
The players were excited about returning from a lockout that ended Monday, but saddened to know they wouldn't be joined by Heap, McGahee, Gregg or Mason.
"For me, it's like you're kind of upset about it but you also know it's the business," Rice said. "It makes you want to relish the moments you have with them. We hate to see them go, we really do, and I'm sure that the fans hate to them go, too. But I'm sure they'll end up somewhere, and hopefully, I want to get a few guys back if we can."
Rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith was stunned to find out Mason wouldn't be there to provide advice in the days ahead.
"I was looking forward to learning from him, and he was looking forward to coaching me up," Smith said. "We'll see what happens."
Cornerback Domonique Foxworth, who helped negotiate the pact on the behalf the player's union, said of the pending cuts, "If they don't re-sign them, I'm going to miss those guys. Fortunately, they're going to be released before free agency, and you can add their names to this free agency bonanza going on."
The Ravens usually run camp in nearby Westminster, but the delay in reaching an agreement between the players and owners forced the team to move camp to its training complex. Attendance was voluntary Tuesday. Players are expected to report Wednesday and begin workouts Thursday without pads.
"There's a lot of emotions," Foxworth said, "but I'm relieved more than anything that we're back to work, and we're all doing what we're comfortable doing."
Rice can't wait.
"It's definitely great to be back. It felt good to run a conditioning test, knock that out," Rice said. "Now it's time to get to work."