Four Big Questions for Ravens Offseason
There are still a couple leftovers from when LFW was on break, including The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec reviewing some of the biggest questions for the Ravens as they enter the offseason ...
*How will the Ravens create some salary-cap flexibility?
"It's expected to be business as usual this offseason for the Ravens, which means they'll be up against the salary cap and have to be creative to make meaningful free-agent additions or even to sign their top unrestricted free agents, such as Mike Wallace and center Ryan Jensen," wrote Zrebiec.
The figures are slightly different based on who you ask. According to Overthecap.com, the Ravens are estimated to have about $11 million in cap space, which is the sixth least in the league. Spotrac has it at $13.8 million (fifth least). And Russell Street Report's Brian McFarland, who specifically focuses on the Ravens salary cap, says they have just over $6 million.
Whichever number you use, the underlying message is the Ravens will be tight against the cap again this offseason. Part of the reason for such little space is that when a glut of injuries hit the team before the season even started, the Ravens were forced to restructure several contracts to create space and bring in new free agents. That resulted in pushing some salary-cap hits to 2018.
Teams can often create cap space by cutting veterans who have hefty figures, but not enough production to match. While the Ravens will surely do that this year, McFarland says there aren't as many options as last year. Zrebiec agrees.
"Releasing [Jeremy] Maclin and [Danny] Woodhead would create about $7 million in total salary cap room, and there are also modest savings that would come from releasing safety Lardarius Webb ($1.75 million) and linebacker Albert McClellan ($1.2 million)," Zrebiec wrote.
"Beyond them, there are no obvious candidates. Cutting cornerback Brandon Carr would save $4 million, but it would also open a hole at cornerback with Jimmy Smith (Achilles) and Jaylen Hill (knee) possibly not being ready for the start of next year. Jettisoning solid right tackle Austin Howard would save $3 million, but the Ravens don't have a replacement for him on their roster."
*Can the Ravens extend C.J. Mosley's contract?
One way to create space this offseason is to strike a long-term deal with linebacker C.J. Mosley, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2018. The Ravens picked up his fifth-year option and he is set to play for $8.7 million next season.
A new contract could give him a low first-year salary-cap number, but it would skyrocket in future years, given the high contract a young three-time Pro Bowler like Mosley could command.
"The goal for both the Ravens and for Mosley is to reach agreement on a long-term extension and this offseason is the most logical time to do it," wrote Zrebiec. "By every measure, he's one of their most indispensable players and the Ravens don't traditionally let young defensive players in their prime walk out the door.
"... but given his age, durability and production, he won't come cheap. He'd have every right to ask to be paid as one of the top inside linebackers in the league and that means a contract in the $10 million to $12 million range per year. That number will probably only go up as Mosley gets closer to free agency next year. The Ravens figure to start negotiations soon."
*Can the Ravens pacify a frustrated fan base?
"[T]he Ravens badly need to re-energize their fan base," wrote Zrebiec. "The three-year playoff drought, periods of inept offensive football and defensive collapses have left fans not showing up to games, questioning those in charge and calling for widespread change. That there wasn't significant turnover on the coaching staff only added to fan discontent. [Owner Steve] Bisciotti and [General Manager Ozzie] Newsome haven't been successful over their careers by responding to the whims and complaints from their fans. Yet, they surely understand what's at stake this offseason."
Nobody inside the Ravens organization is pleased with missing the playoffs the last three years, so it's no surprise that fans are frustrated by it too. Ravens President Dick Cass wrote a letter to Ravens supporters in December, in which he stated the organization wants to be a source of unifying pride in Baltimore by serving in the community and putting the best possible team on the field.
For those that wanted to see more change in the coaching staff, perhaps the best way going forward to address their concerns is by successfully navigating this next topic …
*How will the Ravens add playmakers?
*Head Coach John Harbaugh said last week that it's "no secret" to the rest of the league that the Ravens will be on the lookout for offensive playmakers.
The only thing is, it could get tricky.
The Ravens said they wanted to get quarterback Joe Flacco more weapons last year too, but the two main additions – Maclin and Woodhead – struggled, in part, due to injuries.
Now, with an even more sticky salary-cap situation, combined with what many are calling an unimpressive free-agent class, the Ravens will have to get creative.
"It won't be easy," Zrebiec said. "It's an extremely weak free-agent wide receiver class beyond Jarvis Landry, Sammy Watkins and Allen Robinson. There's not an obvious solution in free agency for the team's glaring need for a dynamic and field-stretching tight end either. The Ravens should be able to plug a hole at wide receiver in free agency, but most of the draft needs to be devoted to finding skill-position talent."
Alabama Receiver Calvin Ridley Declares for the Draft
Little cap space + weak free-agent class = use draft for playmakers
That seems like the formula this year, right?
Well, the draft may have just what the Ravens need as there should be considerable talent in the class, including Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who officially declared for the 2018 NFL Draft yesterday.
Like Marlon Humphrey, who came into the league with a polished demeanor and skillset, Ridley was groomed by the NFL-style Alabama program. Ridley knows what it's like to play on the big stage and deliver. He's won two national championships with the Crimson Tide, including on Monday night when he scored the crucial game-tying touchdown on fourth down.
Ridley is Mel Kiper's No. 1 receiver entering the draft after amassing 224 receptions, 2,781 yards and 19 touchdowns during his career at Alabama. It's hard to believe such a highly-rated receiver will last until the Ravens' 16th-overall pick, which is why there's already chatter about trading up to nab him.
Why Ravens May Want to Keep Options Open at Running Back
Baltimore knows it struck it big landing running back Alex Collins after he was cut by the Seattle Seahawks. That's why he quickly ascended the ladder and became the team's regular starter in Week 6.
While the Ravens know he's a home-run playmaker, Harbaugh said the Ravens could still upgrade at the position. Some fans were surprised by that outlook, but ESPN explained why it might be smart to keep options open.
"Collins isn't seen as a workhorse back by Baltimore," the website wrote. "The Ravens never gave him the ball more than 20 times in a game (compared to Todd Gurley and Leonard Fournette, who combined to do so 12 times) because they didn't want to wear down a smaller frame back like Collins. There are also other issues with ball security (four fumbles) and catching the ball (three drops)."
After fumbling twice in his first three games as a Raven, Collins went eight games without putting the ball on the turf. He then fumbled twice more in the next three games, but the Ravens luckily recovered both. While he cleaned up the issue for most of the season and will still be a big part of the 2018 plan, it's still smart for the Ravens to not want to wear down a playmaker like Collins; they need him on the field.
He's more than capable of being the lead back, especially in a committee situation like last year when he split carries with Woodhead and Buck Allen. All three are currently under contract next season, along with Kenneth Dixon, who will return from a season-ending knee injury.
Running back clearly isn't as big of a priority as wide receiver or a pass-catching tight end, so …
"The Ravens could just be keeping their options open at running back, especially in the draft," says ESPN. "Baltimore hasn't selected a running back in the first three rounds since Bernard Pierce in 2012, and the team could be kicking itself after passing on Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt last year.
"There are a handful of top running back prospects who could land in the second or third rounds: Auburn's Kerryon Johnson, LSU's Derrius Guice, Alabama's Damien Harris and Georgia's Sony Michel."