Ravens Can Double Salary-Cap Space With Rare Offseason Moves
Want to see the Ravens double the amount of money they have to spend before free agency opens on March 9?
It can be done. Actually, it could be done every year, if they really wanted.
They would just have to make their biggest cap purge of the last 15 years, says ESPN's Jamison Hensley.
As things stand today, Baltimore's $15.3 million is the NFL's fifth-least amount of cap space, according to Spotrac.com. Hensley says the Ravens could create an additional $20.3 million by releasing six veterans.
"The Ravens would need to cut linebacker Elvis Dumervil ($6 million in savings), safety Lardarius Webb ($5.5 million), cornerback Shareece Wright ($2.6 million), center Jeremy Zuttah ($2.3 million), cornerback Kyle Arrington ($2.1 million) and safety Kendrick Lewis ($1.8 million)," Hensley wrote.
"This would mark a drastically different offseason for the Ravens, who haven't released more than four players before the start of free agency since 2002."
Baltimore's General Manager Ozzie Newsome has not said any of the veterans above are in jeopardy. This is Hensley simply doing cap vs. productivity math on his own. As he said, "Baltimore could also choose to not let go of as many players."
His overall point, however, is that if the Ravens want to improve upon their 8-8 record, they're going to need more cap flexibility. Fifteen million dollars isn't going to be enough to keep free agents like defensive tackle Brandon Williams, offensive tackle Rick Wagner and/or fullback Kyle Juszczyk, while also bringing in new free-agent blood to help fill needs at cornerback, receiver, linebacker, etc.
Hensley admits a cap purge of this scale isn't usually the way Baltimore does business. He pointed out that only eight players were cut or traded before the start of free agency during the previous four offseasons.
You'd have to go back six years to find the most recent "upheaval," when the Ravens cut tight end Todd Heap, wide receiver Derrick Mason, nose tackle Kelly Gregg and running back Willis McGahee.
"But the greatest cap purge in team history came in 2002, when the Ravens released 10 players, including two future Hall of Fame players (safety Rod Woodson and tight end Shannon Sharpe) as well as defensive tackles Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa, wide receiver Qadry Ismail, defensive end Rob Burnett and fullback Sam Gash," Hensley wrote.
"The Ravens aren't expected to match that number of cuts this offseason. But Baltimore will need to part ways with more than a handful of players to create much-needed cap room."
Why Victor Cruz 'Doesn't Fit' Ravens And Can Only Be Signed Under One Condition
There's been plenty of speculation about the Ravens targeting veteran wide receiver Victor Cruz after he was released by the New York Giants a week ago, but Hensleyisn't buying the idea.
Yes, Cruz plays slot receiver and the Ravens could use one. Yes, Baltimore has a history of signing veterans that have been cut because they don't count against the compensatory pick formula. And, yes, Newsome said at the season's end that he will scour the free-agent market for an experienced receiver that "still has some juice left."
But those are the key words: "still has some juice left."
That's where the Ravens would be taking a risk with Cruz, and it's too big to give him guaranteed money, says Hensley.
"Cruz doesn't fit what the Ravens previously looked for at receiver," he wrote. "Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin and Steve Smith Sr. all showed a high level of productivity and durability when they joined the Ravens at age 30 or older."
Cruz, 30, doesn't have the same history as those three big signees. He missed 28 games over two years (2014-15) due to a torn patellar tendon and calf injury in back-to-back years. He returned last season to catch 39 balls for 586 yards, but his injury history carries a larger risk than when the Ravens signed Mason, Boldin and Smith.
As such, the Ravens could only add Cruz under a low-risk contract, says Hensley.
"Signing Cruz only makes sense if the Ravens bring him in on a veteran minimum deal. The Ravens don't have the cap room to give guaranteed money to someone who has this type of injury history," he wrote. "Even under that scenario, Baltimore can't expect Cruz to fill the production void of Smith. It would be a downgrade at receiver if the Ravens' top three targets are Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and Cruz.
"[T]o improve this group, Baltimore has to sign a receiver who is more reliable than Cruz in free agency (Pierre Garcon, perhaps) and draft another one."
10 NFL Scouting Combine Prospects Who Could Spark Ravens' Interest
We are eight days away from the NFL Scouting Combine, and the names of 330 college prospects who will attend were released by the league last week.
As such, The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec identified 10 players who could pique the Ravens' interest. You can read his full scouting report of each prospect here, and I've pulled out a line or two for each below:
Derek Barnett, OLB, Tennessee: "Barnett had 32 sacks and 52 tackles for loss in three seasons for the Volunteers. He led the SEC with 13 sacks last year. The Ravens need a young edge rusher, and Barnett would fit the bill."
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State:"His style fits what the Ravens are looking for as a complement to Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon. He probably fits better than the draft's other top back, LSU's Leonard Fournette."
Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan(won't participate in field tests because of an ankle injury): "Though there will be questions about the competition he's faced, Davis' numbers are off the charts. … Many pundits believe he's the top receiver in the draft."
Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama(won't participate in field tests because of a shoulder injury): "He's considered the top available inside linebacker and he's an intriguing candidate to slot in alongside another former Alabama star, C.J. Mosley, as a replacement for the retired Zachary Orr."
Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State: "A ball-hawking, instinctive safety, Hooker has drawn comparisons to former Raven Ed Reed. He's still raw, but the talent and physical tools are undeniable."
Sidney Jones, CB, Washington: "It's likely that five or six cornerbacks will go in the first round, and Jones is expected to be one of them."
Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan: "Peppers is one of 14 Michigan players who will be at the combine and he certainly has plenty to prove. There are questions about what position he fits best at in his transition to the next level. Any defense, however, could benefit from his skill set."
Teez Tabor, CB, Florida:"Tabor, a Washington D.C. native, is a pure cover corner with big-play potential. … However, he'll have some questions to answer in Indianapolis about off-the-field issues."
Mike Williams, WR, Clemson: "If Williams is available in the middle of the first round, the Ravens will at least have something to think about as he profiles as the physical, playmaking receiver they've long coveted. How quickly he runs at the combine could go a long way toward determining his draft positioning."
Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama:"Williams has one defining quality: he can get to the quarterback. … Williams, though, has used some bad judgment off the field on multiple occasions and he'll have to answer for that in Indianapolis."
PFF: Ravens Should Sign Jabaal Sheard In Free Agency
Pro Football Focus (PFF) identified one player that each NFL team should sign in free agency, and the website thinks pass rusher Jabaal Sheard would be a good fit in Baltimore.
These picks are not based on rumors or reports about teams being interested in the pending free agents, but rather just who PFF thinks makes sense.
"The Ravens aren't fortunate enough to have much salary-cap room, so even if some of the top pass-rushers hit the open market, it's unlikely Baltimore will be in position to make a big splash for them," the website wrote. "What does make sense, though, is adding a veteran pass-rusher to bolster a defense that saw just one player, Terrell Suggs, register at least eight sacks and 45 total hurries in 2016.
"Sheard will be 28 years old when the 2017 season begins, and he registered six sacks, six hits and 31 hurries on 380 pass-rushing snaps (including the playoffs) for the Patriots in 2016. He is just a year removed from registering 65 total pressures on 397 pass-rushing snaps, so he can definitely help the Ravens in an area of need."