8 Moves To Create Much-Needed Cap Space
If you're dreaming of the Ravens landing star wide receivers and cornerbacks to bolster the roster this offseason, here is one cold, hard reality:
No big-name veterans are coming to Baltimore unless Ravens brass clears some much-needed salary cap space.
ESPN Stats & Information estimates $141.9 million is already on the Ravens books for 2015, with the salary cap estimated to be between $140 and $145 million. If these estimates are correct, that means the Ravens are either over the limit before free agency begins, or they have just a couple million to spend.
The front office still has four weeks to clear some space to be ready for business once free agency begins on March 10.
To do so, they will have to terminate, restructure or extend the contracts of several players, says The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson and Jeff Zrebiec.
The Ravens could use the 80/20 rule as their guide as they review the roster.
"The benchmark the Baltimore Ravens use to determine whether or not it's time to close the book on an expensive veteran is the 80/20 rule," wrote Russell Street Report's Tony Lombardi. "If another player can provide 80 percent of the production of an established vet for 20 percent of the cost, YOU HAVE TO MAKE THAT MOVE!"
Here are eight moves the Ravens could make, and why, per Wilson and Zrebiec:
DT Haloti Ngata: $16 million cap hit; release creates $8.5 million in cap space
The Baltimore Sun's suggestion: extend or release
"Both sides would welcome a contract extension that would allow the defensive lineman to retire as a Raven, similar to the one Ngata's close friend, Terrell Suggs, agreed to last offseason. However, arriving at a number both parties can accept won't be easy. Cutting Ngata, one of the organization's all-time best players, would be tough, but the Ravens are deep along the defensive line."
CB Lardarius Webb: $12 million cap hit; release creates $2 million in cap space
The Baltimore Sun's suggestion: restructure contract
"[T]he Ravens don't like restructuring contracts, but Webb is a prime candidate to have his deal reworked. His health has been an issue throughout his career and it would be tough to justify keeping Webb under his current contract. But the Ravens are already thin at cornerback and Webb played better the healthier he got in 2014. Webb values being a Raven, so there's probably a deal to be made there that could appease both sides. But the Ravens are going to have to be comfortable with where Webb is health-wise."
G Marshal Yanda: $8.45 million cap hit; release creates $5.5 million in cap spaceThe Baltimore Sun's suggestion: extend contract"[Yanda] is an ideal candidate for a contract extension, given that he's entering the final season of a five-year deal, signed in 2011. Yanda, who is still playing at an extremely high level, is another guy that the Ravens would love to retire with the team. He's also been willing to rework his contract in the past."
WR-KR Jacoby Jones: $3.375 million cap hit; release creates $2.5 million in cap spaceThe Baltimore Sun's suggestion: post-June 1 release "The Ravens wouldn't open a whole lot of cap space by releasing him and Jones remains one of the most dangerous return men in the game. Releasing him with a post-June 1 designation probably makes the most sense here."
DE Chris Canty: $3.336 million cap hit; release creates $2.66 million in cap space
The Baltimore Sun's suggestion: retirement or release
"The 32-year-old is pondering retirement so that would take the decision out of the Ravens' hands. If he opts to return for an 11th NFL season, there's a good chance it won't be with the Ravens. Canty has been solid over the past two seasons, but the Ravens have several young defensive ends who could help replace his production at a fraction of the cost."
P Sam Koch: $3.1 million cap hit; release creates $2.5 million in cap spaceThe Baltimore Sun's suggestion: extend contract"The Ravens aren't looking to replace him, but his salary cap number is pretty high. A contract extension for the 32-year-old with a lower 2015 salary cap number would be ideal for the Ravens."
C Gino Gradkowski: $1.695 million cap hit; release creates $1.574 million in cap spaceThe Baltimore Sun's suggestion: release"The Ravens hate giving up on draft picks early, but cap room is too precious for them to justify devoting nearly $1.7 million of space to a player who lost his starting center job to Jeremy Zuttah and was inactive for eight regular-season games this past season. Young offensive linemen John Urschel and Ryan Jensen also could make Gradkowski expendable."
LB Albert McClellan: $1.2 million cap hit; release creates $1 million in cap spaceThe Baltimore Sun's suggestion: unclear"[H]e has a very small role with the defense and $1 million is a significant commitment to someone who essentially plays only on special teams. The Ravens also have another reserve linebacker, Zach Orr, who is well on his way to becoming a core special teamer."
Zuttah Had Hip Surgery
Ravens center Jeremy Zuttah recently had surgery to clean up some bone spurs, which affected his hip joint throughout last season when he got into his blocking stance, according to Wilson.
The recovery time shouldn't take very long, as Zuttah is expected to take part in offseason practices and minicamps, although he may not be full-go and will be eased back into workouts, per the report.
Despite dealing with the bone spurs, Zuttah missed just one offensive snap in 2014. He was a key piece on an offensive line that spurred an eighth-ranked rushing attack and allowed just 19 sacks (second fewest in the league).
Zuttah took over the center position from Gradkowski last year after the Ravens traded a fifth-round draft pick for the veteran. Zuttah should be ready to pick up where he left off by the time the regular season rolls around.
"That's good news for the team's run game and for their offensive continuity on the field as they prepare to play for their third offensive coordinator in as many seasons," wrote ProFootballTalk.com's Josh Alper.
Hensley: Don't Sign Brandon Marshall
Don't sign five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall, says ESPN's Jamison Hensley.
Marshall is still under contract with the Chicago Bears and the Ravens don't have the salary cap space, but even if Marshall was cut and the Ravens had the money, Hensley still wouldn't sign him.
"He's selfish. He's a distraction," Hensley asserts. "If the Ravens bring in Marshall, they might as well bring in Marshawn Lynch at running back and a psychiatrist for [Joe] Flacco."
There is no doubt on paper Marshall makes sense for the Ravens. He is a big, physical weapon that Flacco would love to throw to. If healthy, Marshall could produce 100 catches and 1,000 yards, and he would reunite with his former head coach from the Bears, Marc Trestman.
But pairing Marshall with Steve Smith Sr. would be "disastrous" for a team looking for another Super Bowl run, says Hensley.
"Before you picture Marshall catching 100 passes from quarterback Joe Flacco, just imagine him in the same locker room as volatile receiver Steve Smith, who has indicated to the Ravens he wants to play next season. That would make for a good reality television show," the ESPN reporter wrote.
"The idea of Marshall and Smith brings up bad memories of Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens in Cincinnati in 2010, when the Bengals went 4-12. It's difficult to keep two strong personalities at wide receiver happy and not let that affect the entire team."
Hensley also points to Marshall's eight cases of violence against women since he came into the league in 2006. He reportedly called out quarterback Jay Cutler in the locker room after a loss to the Dolphins. He walked off the field for a fourth-and-10 play while trailing the Patriots 45-7 without a clear explanation. Hensley says Marshall is "obsessed" with the spotlight.
"Beyond that, there's a reason why a five-time Pro Bowl receiver has played for three teams," Hensley wrote. "The Ravens would essentially be replacing a high-character player in Torrey Smith with a narcissistic one in Marshall. The good teams know the value of chemistry over production. It's not a coincidence Marshall has never played in a postseason game in his nine NFL seasons."
"The Ravens need to find a legitimate, young No. 1 wide receiver for Flacco at some point. There comes a time when the Ravens have to stop patching up their wide receiver position with 30-something receivers like Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Lee Evans and Steve Smith."
Lecrae And Forsett Want To Change Christian Music With Rap
Ravens running back Justin Forsett met Grammy-winning rapper Lecrae backstage at a concert in 2011, and they bonded almost instantly. Forsett is the son of a pastor and Lecrae doesn't shy away from rapping about his faith. Both men are devoted fathers and husbands.
The two came together for a photo shoot and article for ESPN The Magazine, talking about how they want to combine Christian music with rap. Lecrae creates Christian hip hop, and Forsett brings it to NFL locker rooms. (Forsett has also created some uplifting music of his own.)
"Rap music has long been an NFL locker room staple," wrote ESPN's The Magazine's Kevin Van Valkenburg. "So have Bible study and pregame prayer circles. But the two cultures rarely intersect – and that has always perplexed Ravens running back Justin Forsett. The son of a pastor, he likes rap but used to typically choose gospel music instead for pregame inspiration.
"Forsett now finds that peace – as well as a friend and mentor – in Lecrae. … Many Christian athletes have embraced him as the next big thing (he counts Jeremy Lin and Bubba Watson as fans and friends), but Lecrae has also shown the ability to cross into mainstream culture."
Lecrae won his second-ever Grammy on Sunday, earning the Best Contemporary Christian Song/Performance for his track "Messengers." He won Best Gospel Album for Gravity in 2013.
Lecrae told ESPN The Magazine that he appreciates how Forsett tries to hold high standards in tough environments.
"I'm so proud of this dude," Lecrae said. "Guys like Justin who are unique in their morals and beliefs and just want to be upstanding leaders, a lot of times they're outnumbered in their environments. Now he gets a chance to have music speak to where he's at and where he's going."