Is it me or does the Ravens' salary cap situation seem tighter than usual this year?
I don't think it's me.
Even with the cap rising by a healthy $10 million in 2015, the Ravens still have less than $5 million to work with, according to ESPN and The Baltimore Sun. That's why they're trying so hard to re-sign several veterans to contract extensions and open up some space before free agency begins Tuesday. With less than $5 million to spend, they rank near the bottom of the league in flexibility. They can't do much.
A year ago, they had more flexibility, reportedly more than $25 million, after they released Jameel McClain and Vonta Leach and re-signed Terrell Suggs to an extension. Why are things tighter now? Well, I would say a perfect storm of circumstances has struck, except I'm sick of the word storm after the snowfalls of recent weeks so I'm banning it from all conversation. Let's just say a bunch of stuff happened around the same time. You get the point, right?
Here's what's happened: Several of the Ravens' larger contracts have hit significant accelerators. Striking extension deals has proved to be more of a challenge. Their cap-crunch cuts (Chris Canty, Jacoby Jones) didn't open up quite as much room as usual. And most significantly, they're stuck with a bunch of "dead money," mostly because they released Ray Rice. Only one other team (Detroit) is spending more on players no longer wearing their uniform. According to my abacus, almost nine percent of the Ravens' cap room is going to "dead money," mostly because of Rice.
See what I mean? It's a perfect … never mind.
You can't complain. The Ravens find themselves in a similar situation every year. It's what happens when you have good players that you have to pay, and also spend to the cap ceiling trying to win. The Ravens obviously know how to handle their finances, having gone to the playoff six times in the past seven years.
This is just part of their cycle – the hard part to swallow. Are there free agents whom the Ravens covet and would love to snap up to fill a need? A safety? A tight end? Absolutely. As always, the league's annual round of cap-crunch cuts has opened up some interesting possibilities. But the Ravens seldom make a big splash in free agency. They prefer to wait out the initial spending frenzy and troll the market for bargains.
With their tighter-than-usual cap situation this year, I really wouldn't expect many, if any, bold, headline-generating moves.
Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome is famous for saying that if he really sees a player he wants, a player who can help, he finds a way to add that player. But given this year's circumstances, it's likelier that the Ravens focus on retaining their own pending free agents, such as running back Justin Forsett, before they start trying to grab guys from other teams.
According to ESPN's Jamison Hensley, the Ravens have given a total of $29 million in guaranteed money to other teams' free agents over the past five offseasons, while they've invested a combined $93 million in retaining their own free agents. Those startling numbers tell you all you need to know about how they like to operate.
Bottom line, it's the time of year in Baltimore when fans need to take a deep breath and consider the big picture. Sure, it's exciting when talented guys on other teams become untethered and you can envision how they would fit into the Ravens' blueprint. And it's frustrating when those players land elsewhere. But remember, most teams that make splashes in March aren't playing in January. They tend to be lower-tier teams that have more cap flexibility because they haven't had to pay great players and also because they don't spend to the limit as willingly as the Ravens and other contenders.
"There are a lot of teams out there that don't spend to the cap, and we do," Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti said last week. "I'm always envious of those teams right about this time of the year, and then they're envious of me when we're in the playoffs. So, we're going to keep doing what we do, the way we do it."
Does "the way we do it" make for an exciting March? Put it this way: January, playoff time, is more exciting in Ravenstown. But I do believe that's the goal.