Why Did Ravens Cut Jacoby? Teammates React
Jacoby Jones etched his place in Ravens franchise history with his 2012 playoff heroics, including the "Mile High Miracle" and a Super Bowl MVP-worthy performance.
He earned a reputation for being a dangerous return man and speedy deep threat that opponents had to scheme to stop.
Yet today, Jones is no longer on the Ravens roster.
The Ravens didn't suddenly forget what he did for them. In fact, GM Ozzie Newsome aptly pointed out yesterday, "We don't win Super Bowl XLVII without Jacoby."
The reason lies within the harsh reality that the NFL is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league.
"Owner Steve Bisciotti once said that the successful teams are the ones who pay players for what they can do in the future, not for what they did in the past," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "The Ravens backed up those words Wednesday."
Jones was reportedly scheduled to carry a $3.375 million cap hit next season, but he was coming off a season in which he lost his offensive role after dropping five passes and only catching nine. He was still considered a dangerous returner – he returned a 108-yard kickoff against Pittsburgh – but wasn't as reliable. Hensley called Jones a "liability" on special teams after two muffed punts and some risky decisions.
As such, while the move shocked many fans, both The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec and WNST's Luke Jones said that termination of his contract wasn't completely unexpected.
"It wasn't a surprising roster move considering Jones plummeted on the wide receiver depth chart last season and was no longer as consistently dangerous or reliable as a kick returner," wrote Zrebiec.
"[H]is $3.375 million cap number [was] too steep," added Hensley.
But the decision wasn't completely a financial one.
If it was, Baltimore would have designated Jones as a post-June 1 release, which would have given them $2.5 million in cap savings (but dead money in 2016). The Ravens only gain $750,000 in cap space by releasing Jones now, but they do have that money available immediately to try to work out deals with players like Haloti Ngata, Torrey Smith or Justin Forsett.* *
In a way, the Ravens did Jones a solid by giving him time to find a new job with another NFL team prior to free agency doors opening on March 10. There certainly will be a market for one of the better return men in the NFL. He likely just won't get receiver money like he was scheduled to get in Baltimore.
"The Ravens could have saved more cap space by waiting until June 1 to cut Jones," wrote CSNBaltimore.com's Clifton Brown. "However, General Manager Ozzie Newsome said the team wanted to give Jones an opportunity to explore free agency next week."
Business aside, Jones was beloved in the locker room and some of his teammates sent their praises via Twitter after hearing the news.
Who Will Return Kicks Now?
Releasing Jones should not cause any major problems on offense, as Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown had already passed Jones on the depth chart at receiver.
But filling his shoes as a return specialist may be a* *different story.
"The team appears to have created another need for itself," wrote The Sun's Jon Meoli.
"The team's roster includes several options to return kicks, all of whom present their own question marks about whether each is the man to replace Jones."
The seven options Meoli refers to are Steve Smith Sr., Lardarius Webb, Michael Campanaro, Asa Jackson, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Victor Hampton and Tramain Jacobs. They are the only seven on the team with return experience.
But Meoli pokes holes in each player's ability to carry the load. Smith hasn't returned balls for years, while Webb, Jackson and Campanaro haven't shown an ability to stay healthy long enough to be considered reliable options. The others have less experience and are unproven. Of all those options, Campanaro appears to be the next in line.
Meoli isn't sold on anyone yet. He thinks the answer may be awaiting in the draft or in free agency.
"So if the Ravens want a speedy, playmaking return man to replicate Jones' peak production at a fraction of the cost, it appears such a player isn't on the roster yet," Meoli wrote. "But with free agency, the NFL draft, and the post-draft rush of college free agent signings all on the horizon, there's little doubt there will be one before long.
"If they can fill this vacancy, along with adding some receiver or cornerback depth in the process, I'm sure the front office and coaching staff would be even happier."
Pessimism For Ngata Deal, But Optimism For Webb
Head Coach John Harbaugh told WNST last week that he had "no doubt" an extension with Ngata would get done, but CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora isn't so sure.
La Canfora believes a big gap would need to be bridged for something to get done.
"Barring some significant progress I would not be surprised if Haloti Ngata has played his last game as a Raven," he wrote.
"He's been with the team his entire career and is an iconic player in Baltimore, but I wouldn't underestimate his willingness to play elsewhere in 2015 if need be and reports about the sides being close and the Ravens making a 'strong' offer aren't jibing with me. There is still time to work something out, and we'll see, but some things would have to change."
If Ngata has indeed played his last game, that means the Ravens would've cut him. That move would reportedly create $8.5 million in cap space, a chunk of money they could spend elsewhere, and then the Ravens would look to youngsters Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan to fill in.
Meanwhile, the contract negotiation with cornerback Lardarius Webb is still being worked through in the shadow of Ngata's headline-grabbing situation. And while it isn't garnering as much attention, La Canfora indicates there's a good chance a new agreement with Webb gets done.
Webb's current deal reportedly carries a $12 million cap hit, the third most on the team behind Ngata and quarterback Joe Flacco.
"I do expect the Ravens to work out something shortly with corner Lardarius Webb, who also carries a big salary cap number and Baltimore needs to restructure to gain some cap relief," wrote La Canfora. "The club anticipates Webb being much healthier and playing at a high level next season with top corner Jimmy Smith back from injury as well."
14 Quick Takeaways From 'State of Ravens'
Zrebiec didn't feel like there were any earth-shattering revelations Tuesday when Ravens brass met with the media, but he and Hensley did come away with these 14 overall impressions:
- The Ravens will not overextend themselves to sign wide receiver Torrey Smith. (Zrebiec)
- Reaching a compromise with Ngata won't be easy. (Zrebiec)
- Pernell McPhee is a goner. (Zrebiec)
- The Ravens don't think they're as desperate for cornerbacks as fans and media do. (Zrebiec)
- You can forget about the Ravens drafting Dorial Green-Beckham or making a play for Brandon Marshall [because of domestic violence issues in their backgrounds]. (Zrebiec)
- The Ravens are thrilled with leadership of Harbaugh. (Zrebiec)
- Ravens officials know that they are going to have some really difficult decisions to make next offseason [with Joe Flacco, Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Courtney Upshaw, Justin Tucker and Sam Koch]. (Zrebiec)
- The Ravens know they have a lot of work to do to create salary-cap room. (Hensley)
- Newsome still hasn't thought about retiring. (Hensley)
- Running back Justin Forsett is more of a priority than originally thought. (Hensley)
- It sounds like Matt Elam will be given a chance to regain his starting job. (Hensley)
- Tight end Owen Daniels is interested in returning. (Hensley)
- The Ravens may not have an answer on Dennis Pitta's status until the summer. (Hensley)
- Ravens officials have already begun talking about Flacco's 2016 salary-cap number. (Hensley)