Every NFL team structures its roster with the utmost care going into a season. It's all based on the salary cap. Basically, there are a lot of guys making decent money, some rookies making the minimum, and a few guys making big bucks.
It goes without saying that the guys making big bucks are supposed to take you where you want go, lead your team. They're getting that money for a reason.
The Ravens' highest-paid guy, Terrell Suggs, is delivering the goods in exemplary fashion in 2013. He has piled up nine sacks and seems bound for the Pro Bowl.
After Suggs, here are the rest of the Ravens' top dozen earners against the cap this season, according to Spotrac: nose tackle Haloti Ngata, guard Marshal Yanda, quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Ray Rice, cornerback Lardarius Webb, tackle Michael Oher, wide receiver Jacoby Jones, linebacker Jameel McClain, cornerback Corey Graham, linebacker Elvis Dumervil and punter Sam Koch.
Not surprisingly, those are names that have come up at times in attempts to dissect what's going on with a team that has lost three straight games and won just three of eight overall.
Let's zero in on how they're doing:
- Rice suffered a hip flexor injury in Week 2, sat out a game and hasn't been anywhere close to his usual, productive self since he came back. He's averaging 2.7 yards per rush, his career low by far.
- Jones, last year's big-play guy, has just 125 receiving yards and one touchdown through eight games. As with Rice, he has dealt with an injury, a knee strain suffered in the season opener, which caused him to miss a month of games.
- McClain was unable to play until Week 7 because of the spinal cord contusion he suffered last December. He's back now, playing more and more every week. To his credit, he negotiated a lower salary for the season when he wasn't sure how much he would play.
- Webb suffered a serious injury last year, a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and deserves big props for rehabbing hard enough to make it back in time for this year's season opener. But he has admitted that teams are throwing at him more this season, and he has given up more big plays and several touchdowns, including one in Cleveland Sunday.
- Like Webb, Yanda seemingly isn't quite himself this season after undergoing surgery – in his case, to fix a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder. No one on the team is tougher or grinds harder than the Pro Bowl offensive guard, but by the same token, no one on the offensive line should be excused from that unit's ongoing struggles.
- Ngata, the team's second highest-paid player after Suggs, draws two blockers on most plays, so it's hard to know what to expect. But after being switched to nose tackle in the offseason, he has just 1.5 sacks and no forced fumbles, and has been in on 25 tackles in eight games. Meanwhile, several teams have run well on the Ravens up the middle. Head Coach John Harbaugh said last week that Ngata was "playing well" but also "can be more dominant."
- Flacco's performances are under heavy scrutiny, as always. He would certainly benefit from better pass protection and the support of a decent running game, and has had to adjust to a largely new receiving corps, all major issues. But he's ranked 24th in the league in quarterback rating and only five guys have thrown more interceptions. He's not having a banner year.
- Graham leads the team in tackles, but like Webb, he has been targeted more and given up more than last season. Jimmy Smith took his starting job.
- As for the others, Koch, normally a paragon of consistency, has flubbed more kicks than usual this season; Oher is fighting the fight with the rest of the offensive line; and Dumervil, the team's biggest offseason acquisition, has recorded 5.5 sacks, a solid total, but was quiet Sunday in Cleveland.
The good news for the Ravens is the regular season is just half over, so there's time for all of these players to change the narrative -- especially those coming off injuries. Fans should be rooting for it just as much as they're rooting for an uptick in the running game. Given how NFL rosters are structured, with the salary cap ruling all, a team needs its brightest stars to shine.