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Late for Work 2/14: Examining Ways the Ravens Can Create Salary-Cap Space

Posted Feb 14, 2018

How would a Brandon Williams restructure affect the cap? The Ravens are ranked as the fifth-most stable NFL franchise. Finding a pass-catching tight end will be just as hard as overhauling the WR group. First-round receivers are not always a good idea.

How Would a Potential Brandon Williams Contract Restructure Affect Salary Cap?

The Ravens are looking to create salary-cap space ahead of free agency next month, and one way to do that, in addition to releasing players, is to restructure veteran contracts.

Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti specifically named defensive tackle Brandon Williams as a candidate to reshuffle contract money.

“You re-negotiate contracts to create space, which we probably will do a little bit of that again this year,” Bisciotti said at his season-review press conference. “You’re hopefully doing it with people like Brandon Williams, who you know are going to be here. But it is a trick of the trade, and everybody does it, and it’s in our contract language.

“They get more money up front. They’re not doing anybody a favor by restructuring their deal – the great misnomer.”

That’s true. What typically happens in restructuring is the base salary is converted to a signing bonus, essentially making a greater portion of the player’s contract guaranteed money because he gets it up front. So, Williams would get more money now rather than down the road, or perhaps not getting it at all in the case of an early release.

Russell Street Report’s salary cap-guru Brian McFarland broke down what a restructured deal for Williams might look like.

2018: $11.55 million cap hit ------> $5.92 million cap hit -----> $5.625 million GAIN in cap space
2019: $12.295 million cap hit ----> $14.17 million cap hit ----> $1.875 million LOSS in cap space
2020: $12.295 million cap hit ----> $14.17 million cap hit ----> $1.875 million LOSS in cap space
2021: $12.295 million cap hit ----> $14.42 million cap hit ----> $2.125 million LOSS in cap space

This is the drawback to restructuring contracts – while it creates cap space immediately, it also raises future cap numbers and creates more potential dead money on the books if the player is released later,” wrote McFarland.

Are there any other good candidates for restructuring deals this year?

McFarland doesn’t see any ideal scenario because most Ravens veterans have already been restructured. Here’s when he says some of the team’s veterans re-worked their deals:

Williams: 2017
Jimmy Smith: 2016, 2017
Tony Jefferson: 2017
Justin Tucker: 2017
Terrell Suggs: 2015
Marshal Yanda: 2016

That said, McFarland said if the Ravens really, really need to, they could create $8.25 million from Joe Flacco, $3.33 million from Jefferson, $3 million from Yanda and $2.75 million from Eric Weddle.

“The reality is that the Ravens don’t have a lot of flexibility when it comes to roster moves because there are drawbacks to restructuring each of the above deals,” McFarland wrote. “That’s not to say that they won’t – because it certainly appears that they will – but none of these moves are ideal.”

In terms of other ways the Ravens can create space, we’ve already discussed seven players the Ravens could consider cutting.

And then there’s a potential contract extension with inside linebacker C.J. Mosley. The Ravens no doubt would like to agree to a new deal with him before he plays on the final year of his rookie contract in 2018.

McFarland envisions a new deal for Mosley that’s similar to Los Angeles Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree, who recently signed a four-year extension reportedly worth $42.75 million.

“An extension for Mosley could reduce his present $8.718 million cap number down by anywhere from $3 to $5 million depending on the structure of the deal,” McFarland wrote.

Ravens Ranked as Fifth-Most Stable NFL Franchise

The Ringer set out to find the most and least stable NFL teams, creating a “Stability Index” to rank them 1-32.

The Ravens came in at No. 5, behind the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles.

Baltimore is clearly among good company, as the other four teams all advanced to the playoffs and two competed in the Super Bowl. However, the number of division titles, playoff games or Super Bowl appearances were not factors in the stability study.

“This Stability Index is focused primarily on the transition from the 2017 season to 2018 and beyond,” wrote The Ringer’s Danny Kelly. “[I]t weighs factors that matter most right now: continuity in the front office and the coaching staff, security at the quarterback position, a core nucleus of stars, established schemes, a strong culture, and an identity.

“Stability is fleeting, but for the most steady teams, we know what we can expect—and for the other end of the spectrum, it’s a total crapshoot.”

With that in mind, it’s easy to see why the Ravens rank so high on the list.

-        John Harbaugh is entering his 11th year.

-        Marty Mornhinweg is returning, maintaining continuity at offensive coordinator for the second-straight offseason. No NFL quarterback had more offensive coordinators (five) from 2012-2017 than Flacco, per ESPN.

-        Flacco will be back for his 11th season.

-        There’s a change at defensive coordinator from Dean Pees to Wink Martindale, but most of the starting defense is intact.

-        After starting with the team in 1996, Ozzie Newsome will enter his final season as general manager.

“The team’s succession plan (which has been in the works for five years, per Newsome) to highly regarded assistant general manager Eric DeCosta should make for a smooth transition,” wrote Kelly.

Finding a Pass-Catching Tight End Will Be Just as Hard as Overhauling WR Group

Benjamin Watson was the Ravens’ leading pass catcher in 2017, reeling in 61 receptions for 552 yards and four touchdowns.

He’s scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, if he doesn’t decide to retire. After Watson, the tight end with the most catches was Nick Boyle with 28, not even half of Watson’s production.

Just as wide receiver is a major need to fill this offseason, finding a pass-catching tight end that can stretch the field is also a high priority. Neither will be easy.

“[Pending free agent tight end Jimmy] Graham could be that guy, but he figures to have plenty of suitors, and the Ravens aren’t equipped to win a bidding war,” wrote The Baltimore Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec. “[Tyler] Eifert, who has missed 40 games over the past four seasons, might be worth a flier, but his injury history makes it difficult to count on him. [Austin] Seferian-Jenkins is an intriguing player coming off a bounce-back season, but he has some baggage, too.

“As for the draft, there’s no surefire first-round pick, though it’s considered a pretty deep class. … If the Ravens don’t get Graham, they’re going to have to mine the middle rounds and find a pass-catching tight end of their own.”

First-Round Receivers Not Always a Good Idea

As John Eisenberg recently pointed out, the Ravens don’t need to address the wide receiver position in the first round of the draft.

He explained that ZERO of the eight 2017 Pro Bowl receivers were drafted in the first round. That’s not to say they’re all busts; clearly that’s not that case. Just look at the 2014 draft class with Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin.

But here’s more evidence that it hasn’t worked out very well over the last three years league-wide.

Quick Hits

  • “He may never hit the market, but a healthy Allen Robinson is an excellent fit for what Flacco needs in a receiver,” wrote Luke Jones. “Some have suggested his signing coming at a discount after last September’s ACL injury, but I’m not convinced that happens with the 6-foot-3 target only being 24.” [WNST]

Please Note

The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on BaltimoreRavens.com represent those of individual authors, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the Baltimore Ravens' organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. Authors' views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Ravens officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.

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