The Ravens have quite a history of allowing certain players to depart via free agency instead of paying the premium price they lure for their "second contract," when their rookie deal expires.
The scenario has cost them homegrown talents Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe and Arthur Jones in recent years, and before that, the likes of Adalius Thomas and Ben Grubbs. If GM Ozzie Newsome's comments during Tuesday's "State of the Ravens" press conference are any measure, we can probably add Pernell McPhee to the list soon.
Asked about McPhee, due to hit free agency March 10, Newsome said, "You have to look at it this way: If we were to go after the market on Pernell, how many other players would we not have on the Baltimore Ravens? And that's kind of the way we look at this thing. Do we pay market for some players? Yes … we paid market for Joe (Flacco), Eugene (Monroe), (Marshal) Yanda. I can name names for years. But, we have to look at how we can't pay everybody market value, because it would hurt our roster overall in trying to retain other guys and then go out in the market and get other guys."
That hardly sounds promising.
No one doubts the Ravens would love to keep McPhee, a relentless defensive end/linebacker who recorded 7.5 sacks in 2014. In business terms, he's a product in which the team has invested millions of "research and development" dollars, with great success. He's a former fifth-round draft pick who has become quite valuable. Elvis Dumervil called him a "special player," high praise from a defensive elder.
But putting a team together under a salary cap is a wickedly complex juggling act, with every move impacting others, and let's face it, when the Ravens let a guy leave, they're basically saying, "We've looked at this and think we can get by without you." If they thought otherwise, they wouldn't let him leave.
The harsh reality is they probably CAN get by without most players. New generations are always rising up, pumped into the depth chart by the draft and free agency. Most NFL teams turn over anywhere from 20 to 25 percent of their rosters every year, adding players who often are younger, cheaper, and sometimes, only need a chance.
Kruger, Ellerbe and Jones played important roles on a Super Bowl winner, but did the Ravens really suffer when they took better offers from other teams? I don't think so. The Ravens either had other guys ready or knew they could fill in with new blood. That's why things go down as they do in these situations, because the Ravens have a Plan B. It's nothing personal, just the way you need to roll with a salary cap in play – save, save, save wherever and whenever you can.
Sure, some players are indispensible. Look at the "keepers" Newsome referenced: Flacco is a franchise quarterback, Monroe a blind-side tackle, Yanda one of the NFL's top offensive lineman. It's hard to replicate their contributions, so they get those second contracts from the Ravens, as did Pro Bowlers such as Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata.
But in McPhee's case, the Ravens are deep in defensive linemen, especially with Timmy Jernigan, Brandon Williams and Brent Urban on the scene. Newsome complimented Jernigan and Williams Tuesday, and the Ravens are high on Urban, whose rookie season was cut short by a training camp injury. One member of the organization said he could be "our Keisel," referring to the Pittsburgh Steelers' longtime defensive stalwart, Brett Keisel.
It means the Ravens are unlikely to try to match what McPhee lures on the open market, which could be quite a bit, according to the rumor mill. They would then watch him leave with deeply mixed emotions, unhappy to have to subtract him from their puzzle, but delighted for him that he cashed in, as they were for Kruger, Ellerbe and Jones.
Whether they end up regretting it, you never know, but it hasn't happened a lot. The Ravens have been pretty good at knowing when to cut ties, not because of a player's talents so much as what's coming behind him.
I think they underestimated how much they would miss receiver Anquan Boldin in 2013, and they certainly missed defensive backs Corey Graham and James Ihedigbo in 2014. But overall, their list of mistakes is pretty short. So they just keep doing what they do.