A year ago at this time, if you had said Elvis Dumervil would play for the Ravens in 2013, most of your friends would have quickly tested your forehead for a fever. It sounded preposterous. Dumveril was under contract to the Denver Broncos, in his playing prime. How could he land in Baltimore?
But strange things happen. The Broncos wanted Dumervil to restructure his contract, and they ended up cutting him because of a paperwork snafu. The Ravens won the derby for his services, and he rolled up 9.5 sacks in 2013.
A year later, the Ravens are in the market for new blood after going 8-8 and missing the playoffs. Meanwhile, more big names are about to become available, some as unrestricted free agents, others as salary cap casualties, deemed too expensive by their employers.
Is another Dumervil out there this year?
The Ravens hit last year's market pretty hard, with some signings (Dumervil, Chris Canty) working out better than others (Michael Huff, Marcus Spears). This year's market might include defensive ends Julius Peppers and DeMarcus Ware, receivers Eric Decker and Hakeem Nicks, quarterback Sam Bradford, running back Chris Johnson and tight end Jimmy Graham, among many.
Here are my thoughts about what the Ravens might do, offered with the caveat that no one from the front office has taken me aside and whispered a prediction.
For starters, I would toss out all unrestricted free agents, i.e., those whose contracts are up. They cost more, and a team has to forfeit a draft pick when it signs a UFA. Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome hates doing that. He admitted last month that he prefers salary cap casualties, who don't cost a pick.
No UFAs means eliminating Decker, Nicks and others such as Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd and Cleveland center Alex Mack. The Ravens could use them, but as UFAs, they're top-market guys who will cost more than the Ravens want to spend, both in salary and picks.
Salary cap casualties are more likely to land here. And since most cuts haven't occurred yet, we don't exactly know who will be available. There's a lot of speculation about Peppers, Ware, Troy Polamalu, Vince Wilfork and Santonio Holmes. I don't see the Ravens going after any of them. Peppers, Ware, Polamalu and Wilfork are up there in age. The Jets don't have much offense but can't wait to unload Holmes, which says something.
Here are some possible cap cuts that make more sense to me:
- Eddie Royal, WR, Chargers – San Diego could save $4.5 million by cutting a wide receiver/returner who made impact plays in 2013. He turns 28 in May, an attractive age. But the Chargers are thin at receiver so they may try to keep him.
- Sidney Rice, WR, Seahawks – He missed Seattle's Super Bowl run because of an ACL tear, and the Seahawks could save $7 million by cutting him, so he's probably going to be available. Yes, there are questions about his knee and overall injury history, but those lower his price, and meanwhile, he's just 27 and a certifiable big-play guy. I like it as long as his knee is OK.
- Danieal Manning, S, Texans – The Ravens have brought in a slew of coaches and players from Houston over the years, so why not another? They need a playmaking free safety to go with Matt Elam. Manning, 31, missed time with a hairline tibia fracture in 2013, but he was playing well before that. He's due a large payday on a rebuilding team.
- David Baas, C, Giants – It's not certain the Giants will cut their starting center, who missed most of 2013 with a knee injury, because the move would generate only modest cap savings before June 1; more after that. He will be 33, but the Ravens might be looking for a stopgap veteran starter while Gino Gradkowski continues to develop.
- Jermaine Gresham, TE, Bengals – Surprised to see him here? He's just 25 and has never caught less than 46 passes in a season. But he has a year left on his rookie contract, and the Bengals could save $3.1 million in 2014 by cutting him. Meanwhile, they took another tight end (Tyler Eifert) with their first-round pick in 2013.
- Nate Burleson, WR, Lions – He turns 33 this year, but he is a productive, versatile receiver. He's due to make $7.5 million in 2014, so his future in Detroit is uncertain.
Please note, these players are still under contract to their teams, so we'll see what happens. But they jump out to me as possible cuts who could fit here. And remember, Dumervil wasn't thought to be available a year ago at this time, so other names could pop up. Stay tuned.
I have no idea if Michael Sams will end up with the Ravens, either as a draft pick or undrafted free agent. At this point, there's a 1-in-32 chance.
But I do know the Ravens are well-equipped to handle bringing Sam into their fold as the NFL's first openly gay active player.
It's going to take a strong organization to deal with the media scrutiny and any potential locker room tension. By a strong organization, I mean one that has authoritative, unyielding leadership, and can state unequivocally, "There's no story here. He's just another player. Get used to it."
Some teams don't have the weight to pull that off. The Ravens do. President Dick Cass already hit just the right note in his response to Sam's coming out, stating that the Ravens will always accept and support anyone who can help them win.
There are a handful of destinations that would work especially well for Sams, and Baltimore is one of them.