Late For Work 2/24: Clock Is Ticking On Ravens Creating Salary Cap Space

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Clock Is Ticking On Creating Salary Cap Space

At this time last year, the dominos already started to fall.

On Feb. 17, the Ravens agreed to a contract extension with Terrell Suggs. It was an all-important move to set up the rest of free agency by creating the necessary cap space to make subsequent moves.

Dennis Pitta signed the following week (Feb. 28). Then it was Eugene Monroe (March 11) on the first day of free agency, then Jacoby Jones (March 12), Steve Smith Sr. and Daryl Smith (March 14), and a trade for Jeremy Zuttah (March 26). The second wave of free agency came around and the Ravens picked up Owen Daniels (April 3) and Justin Forsett (April 4).

This brief history isn't meant to showcase how kick-butt last year's free-agent class was (even though it was kick-butt). Instead, The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec pointed it out for this reason:

"I bring that up only to suggest that the clock is ticking," he wrote.

"Now that the scouting combine is all but over, it isn't hard to predict what will become the front office's focus – creating salary cap space and trying to reach agreements on new contracts with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and cornerback Lardarius Webb."

Yesterday, several teams reportedly cut ties with veterans such as Cardinals receiver Ted Ginn Jr., Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams and Colts defensive tackle Jean Francois.  The Colts also let go of safety LaRon Landry last week. There will certainly be many more moves over the next two weeks.

These moves are signs of teams getting ready for a free-agency push.

Getting Ngata and Webb restructured/new contracts will be a similar sign for the Ravens … if they can get them done. 

"Will they be able to find deals suitable for both sides?" asked Zrebiec. "They haven't to this point and the longer the talks drag on, the more skepticism there will be that the deals get done before free agency starts in about two weeks.

"Deadlines, though, often bring sides closer together. The bet here is that the Ravens will put their best foot forward in the next seven to 10 days and try to hammer out agreements. However, anybody who has followed how the Ravens do business knows that they won't be afraid to move on if they can't find common ground."

The Ravens will conduct their annual unofficially-named "State of the Ravens" press conference this afternoon with Owner Steve Bisciotti, President Dick Cass, General Manager Ozzie Newsome and Head Coach John Harbaugh.

You can bet the executives will be asked about the negotiations with these two players, along with other primary pending free agents Torrey Smith and Justin Forsett.

"Obviously, I fully expect the team's top decision makers to say that they want everyone back, but Bisciotti isn't one to sugarcoat things," Zrebiec wrote. "The Ravens have yet to finalize any moves to free up salary cap space and until they do, there's not going to be much room for any big-ticket acquisitions or re-signings."

Is Steve Smith Sr. Hall of Fame Worthy?

Before Steve Smith Sr. even enters his 15th NFL season, is he already worthy of the Hall of Fame?

"I think he is, but another productive season will only strengthen his case," wrote CSNBaltimore.com's Clifton Brown.

"It was no surprise when coach John Harbaugh said at the combine that the Ravens planned on having Smith back next season. At age 35, what Smith did in 2014 was extraordinary. He was the oldest wide receiver in the NFL with a 1,000-yard season. There were 23 wide receivers that topped the 1,000-yard mark, and only three of them were over 30 years old – Smith, Anquan Boldin of the 49ers who is 34, and Vincent Jackson of the Buccaneers who is 32."

Here's where Smith stacks up in all-time career receiving yards:

  1. Jerry Rice: 22,895 (Hall of Fame)
  1. Terrell Owens: 15,934
  1. Randy Moss: 15,292
  1. Isaac Bruce: 15,208
  1. Tony Gonzalez: 15,127
  1. Tim Brown: 14,934 (Hall of Fame)
  1. Marvin Harrison: 14,580
  1. Reggie Wayne: 14,345 (active player)
  1. James Lofton: 14,004 (Hall of Fame)
  1. Cris Carter: 13,899 (Hall of Fame)
  1. Henry Ellard: 13,777
  1. Andre Johnson: 13,597 (active player)
  1. Torry Holt: 13,382
  1. Steve Smith: 13,262 (active player)

If Smith puts up another 1,000-yard season like he did with the Ravens last year, then he could push himself up at least four spots, depending on what Johnson and Wayne do this season.

"The one missing item on Smith's to-do list is winning a Super Bowl," Brown wrote. "He would love to accomplish that goal next season with the Ravens. But whether he gets a ring or not, is Smith a Hall of Fame worthy receiver already."

Two Names To Watch: CB Cary Williams and WR Marques Colston

There are two player s to keep an eye on as free agency nears: Eagles cornerback Cary Williams and Saints wide receiver Marques Colston.

Both are potential salary-cap casualties, per reports out of their prospective cities, and both could potentially help the Ravens.

Williams, a former seventh-round pick who made a name for himself as a starter in Baltimore, is reportedly scheduled to make $8.1 million in the final year of his contract as an Eagle. He's coming off a down season, and he reportedly clashed with Head Coach Chip Kelly.

"Williams isn't a shutdown corner by any stretch, but he's the type of big and brash corner that the Ravens like," Zrebiec wrote. "Plus, he probably would come reasonably cheap and signing him wouldn't cost the Ravens in potential draft-pick compensation.

"With the rumored price tags on the top free agent cornerbacks … it's going to be hard for the Ravens to be in that market. Signing a guy like Williams and drafting a cornerback early would constitute an upgrade."

Meanwhile, Colston is vulnerable as he enters the penultimate year of his contract, which carries a reported $9.7 million salary cap hit. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound receiver caught 59 passes for 902 yards and five touchdowns last season.

If the Ravens aren't able to re-sign Torrey Smith, they will be looking for other options and might need a plug-and-play starter in case the draft doesn't provide one.

"The Ravens prefer to sign salary-cap casualties, and Colston will be one unless he takes a pay cut," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote. "He could be an affordable target with good size." 

Finally The Year To Get WR In Round 1?

It feels like the same question just about every year: Will the Ravens draft a wide receiver in the first round?

The last time the Ravens did so was a decade ago with Mark Clayton in the 2005 draft.  The only other time that happened in the franchise's 19-year history was in 2000 with Travis Taylor. And Ravens Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta told my colleague Garrett Downing that an elite pass catcher could fall to No. 26 this year.

"I would say wide receiver has to be the early favorite," Hensley wrote.

"Still, I wouldn't be shocked if the Ravens selected a tight end (Minnesota's Maxx Williams), a pass rusher (Clemson's Vic Beasley) or a cornerback (Florida State's P.J. Williams). Some mock drafts have linked the Ravens to Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. While I don't believe the Ravens will use a first-round selection on a running back, Gordon would be the choice for the Ravens if they did so." 

Hensley took a look at the combine performances of three receivers that could fall to the Ravens, noting whether their stock increased or declined after their week in Indianapolis. (Hensley also looked at potential Ravens prospects at running back and tight end, which you can read here.)

Dorial Green-Beckham (Missouri)He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.49 seconds, which is a scorching time for a player who measured in at 6-foot-5, 237 pounds. When you combine Green-Beckham's vertical jump of 32 inches with an impressive wingspan (79 3/4 inches), he has a huge catch radius, which is a term you hear coach John Harbaugh use frequently. Outside of one bad drop, he made the on-field drills look effortless, displaying strong hands and outstanding ball skills. While he proved that he has all of the physical tools (especially for someone who hasn't played football in over a year), the biggest concern is his off-the-field issues. One NFL evaluator told Yahoo! Sports that he worried about Green-Beckham's maturity and football IQ after meeting with him. Post-combine stock watch: Rising. 

Jaelen Strong (Arizona State)
He answered questions about his speed with two good showings in the 40-yard dash, including an official time of 4.44 seconds. That was just outside the top 10 for receivers, but it's a positive time for a 6-2, 217-pound target. Strong's 42-inch vertical jump was the fourth-best among wideouts in the past 10 years, according to the NFL Network. His performance in the combine solidified his place in the first round. Post-combine stock watch: Rising. 

Devin Funchess (Michigan):His disappointing showing at the combine will cause teams to question where he fits. Funchess was considered a hybrid wide receiver-tight end prospect but he didn't deliver explosiveness or strength. His 40-yard time (4.70 seconds) makes you wonder whether he can line up outside. His 17 bench-press reps won't convince anyone that he can hold up at the point of attack as a tight end. Post-combine stock watch: Falling. 

Quick Hits

  • Aaron Wilson reported yesterday that Pernell McPhee is expected to command between $8 and $10 million annually with his next contract. "Frankly, if McPhee thinks he's going to get anything close to $10 million a year, he probably has overestimated his worth," responded Michael David Smith. "McPhee is a good player — No. 15 in our NFL free agent top 100 — but he's only a part-time player who played less than half the Ravens' defensive snaps last season. Teams generally don't break the bank for players who spend more time on the sideline than on the field."
  • Could Marcus Peters, who is widely considered the best cornerback in the draft, slide to the Ravens at No. 26In response to former Raven and pending free agent inside linebacker Rolando McClain facing potential discipline for violating the league's substance abuse policy: "McClain is talented and he'll get paid by someone – probably the Cowboys – but the Ravens should be thankful that he's someone else's problem," wrote Zrebiec. [The Baltimore Sun]
  • like Jimmy Smith did? [ESPN]
  • Was Justin Forsett's breakout season for real or a fluke? [NFL.com]
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