Estimated 2015 Cap Space: $4.7M ($143M cap limit)
Players Under Contract: 50
Pro Bowlers: 3
Unrestricted Free Agents: 14(4 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 26
Salary Cap Breakdown
Free Agents to Re-sign
I can see a case both for and against keeping Torrey Smith, but given the Ravens other options are a 36 year old Steve Smith, an injured Dennis Pitta, and a 33 year old Owen Daniels (who is also a free agent), I can’t see them parting ways. Smith is coming off a bad season that did nothing for his free agent value, especially in light of all the big money disasters of the 2012 wide receiver free agent class. I would think that makes him affordable. This may be a “test the market” situation where the player comes back after realizing the prices may not be there for him…While there should be no expectation for Justin Forsett to have even remotely the same impact as he had last season he should provide the team some stability at the position where they can pair him with another low cost free agent or draft pick…I like the idea of bringing Daniels back who, when healthy, can be very productive. He may look to head elsewhere, such as Denver, but they should make an effort to re-sign him to a two year deal….Darian Stewart is an acceptable option at safety that can always become a role player later on if they are able to upgrade the secondary down the line.
Free Agents to Let Walk
Pernell McPhee made the most of his walk year and probably raised his stock as much as any other player in the NFL. But the cost will too far exceed the production of someone who is probably best suited as a situational player. This is Paul Kruger all over again and the Ravens will treat him the same way.
Contracts to Modify
It is no secret that the Ravens are trying to work out some kind of new contract with Haloti Ngata to eliminate his $16 million cap hit. A lot of people are under the impression that this will result in a pay cut for Ngata but with a base salary of $8.5 million that is doubtful. His cap number is so high because of the heavy reliance on bonuses that the Ravens use in their contracts and they will most likely agree to make the $8.5M the new guarantee on a three year extension. The question is if Ngata believes he can get more money on the open market or will he be willing to take a contract similar to Terrell Suggs’ deal or maybe a more true Vince Wilfork type contract? Since the $7.5 million proration is a sunk cost they could cut him for immediate cap relief while still working on a new deal…The contract the Ravens signed with Lardarius Webb was one of the last head scratchers at the position before the pull back in money for mid tier corners. Webb’s cap charge will be $12 million this season but cutting him will cost the team $10 million against the salary cap making that a difficult option. I’d expect them to try to cut a few million off that number….This is the final year that Marshal Yanda is under contract and he has been invaluable to the team. If they intend to re-sign him next year they should just do it now, lowering his $8.45 million cap charge in the process, and continue the relationship with one of the better bargains in the NFL…
If Dennis Pitta will be unable to play football for the season, or for his career, I would strongly consider reworking his contract rather than retirement or cutting him. Pitta being removed from the roster will result in a $12.8 million cap charge, making that unrealistic. Pitta has a $6.2 million cap hit in 2015, which will be the cap charge even if designated a June 1 cut because of the $4 million in guaranteed salary. The team can either prorate a portion of that salary or see if they can defer a portion of it to the 2016 season to lessen the impact on the cap this year. For cap purposes this could turn into a situation where they keep Pitta on IR for two seasons and maintain just his $4 million guarantee over those two years if he can not play. If they did that they would essentially be spreading out a yearly dead money charge of $4.2-$4.4 million over three years. That may not be in the spirit of the rules, but I believe it should be acceptable.
Players to Consider Releasing
Chris Canty is set to count for $3.33 million against the cap. Releasing him creates $2.66 million in cap room. Canty was injured for a good portion of the year and is more suited for a close to the minimum contract. The team may wait to see what happens with Ngata before making this move…Cutting Albert McClellan saves the team $1 million. He only played in 42 defensive snaps last season and that is too much to invest in a special teams player…Releasing Gino Gradkowski will create around $1.5 million in cap room.
That had to be a very difficult ending of the season for the Ravens in 2014 as their season ended on the combination of a bad QB decision and poor effort by a wide receiver on the same play after playing the Patriots better than anyone else in the AFC playoffs. There is no reason to think that they can’t get back there next season which makes this an offseason where they have to avoid subtracting from the roster and finding ways to add despite not having largest amount cap space.
In many ways I feel that this is the last season for the Ravens before they begin to feel the impact of the Flacco contract. Flacco’s cap charge this season is just $14.55 million but will jump up to $28.55 million in 2015 due to the structure employed by the Ravens. They have no wiggle room in that deal to suggest any pay cut and the most they can do is push more money out. In 2015 they will also have to work out an extension with Jimmy Smith and Kelechi Osemele, so they can get tied up very quickly if they play their hand wrong.
The Ravens are rarely active in free agency and will usually focus on player released from other teams. They have done well in that regard in recent years with the signing of Elvis Dumervil and S. Smith. Given that McPhee will likely net them a 3rd round compensatory pick I would expect them to follow that same philosophy this year.
If they don’t bring back T. Smith, and maybe even if they do, I would definitely look at them as a landing spot for any player cut at that position. Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Marques Colston, Percy Harvin, etc… could all be available and help them at the position at least in the short term. This seems to be the most obvious position where they may be able to find players released that can play a role. Running back should be another spot where they can find a released player to fill a role just as they found Forsett last year.
This looks to be a poor year for free agent players in the secondary so I would expect players who are released to either not be worth a look or end up for going for too much relative to their performance level. I would expect the team to want to find both a cornerback and safety in the draft this season. Getting more help along the defensive line will be a priority especially if Ngata does end up leaving the team.I
In general the Ravens philosophy seems to pay very high on younger homegrown talent and then find a more mutually beneficial solution for their older veterans or bargain bin free agents. It can be a very fine line to walk as any bad decisions, such as the Ray Rice contract or even a lesser extent the Ngata one, back you into a corner but it aso can help maximize the cap room required to re-sign your key players and avoid overpaying your rotational guys. If they can find that right mix of talent this offseason they should be a playoff team again, but keep an eye out for how their cap looks moving forward with the deals they do sign.
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Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.