Ozzie Making Moves To Clear Cap Space. What's Up His Sleeve?
Things are heating up at the Under Armour Performance Center.
With free agency doors opening in five days, General Manager Ozzie Newsome is making cap-clearing moves to presumably be active on the open market. Nobody is expecting him to shell out big money during the first wave of free agency. That's not his style.
But in the last two days, Newsome has reportedly cleared more than $10 million in cap space through three moves:
- Extending quarterback Joe Flacco's contract, clearing $6 million
- Declining to pick up defensive end Chris Canty's $2.915 million option for 2016, clearing $2.15 million
- Releasing linebacker Daryl Smith, clearing $2.625 million (he could be back, see below)
"The Ravens might not be done with their roster maneuvering," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "They still have decisions to make on left tackle Eugene Monroe and tight end Dennis Pitta, and they also could choose to address their logjam at safety. They also will have to decide whether to tender contracts to restricted free agents Marlon Brown and Brynden Trawick."
What will all these money-saving moves lead to?
Newsome isn't about to reveal his plan, but ESPN's Jamison Hensley outlines what he believes should be the Ravens' three priorities when free agency opens on March 9.
Priority No. 1: Re-sign offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele
The* *Ravens have already shown this is a priority. Heck, they made an "aggressive" offer to Osemele before restructuring Flacco's contract. Ultimately, it's going to be up to K.O. to decide what he wants. Once he dips his toe in free-agency waters, it could be awfully hard to hold onto him. He opens himself up to offers from teams who have a whole lot more cap space than the Ravens – Jacksonville, for example, has more than $80 million in cap space – and could lure him away with bigger deals.
"The Ravens shouldn't value Osemele for what they hope he can be (a quality left tackle) more than what he is (a Pro Bowl-caliber player at a position where Marshal Yanda was already paid)," wrote WNST's Luke Jones.
Added Zrebiec: "You would think that the team will make one more run at Osemele to try and keep him off the free-agent market. If he hits the market, Osemele, arguably the top offensive lineman available, is probably as good as gone. But overreacting and panicking is not how the Ravens do business at this time of year. They'll make Osemele their best offer and if that's not enough, they'll move on to Plan B. They are not going to go out of their financial comfort zone too much just because they now have a little more cap flexibility."
Priority No. 2: Add an experienced cornerbackWith Shareece Wright is an unrestricted free agent and Lardarius Webb moving to safety, there is no clear-cut favorite* *for the starting cornerback role alongside Jimmy Smith. Wright could be re-signed at a value price, or the Ravens could target someone else …
"Baltimore could certainly draft a cornerback in the first round (perhaps Florida's Vernon Hargreaves) or second round, but it needs an experienced safety net," wrote Hensley. "The Ravens prefer to pursue cap cuts because they don't count against their compensatory pick total, and the top ones are Antonio Cromartie and possibly Brandon Carr (if he is released by the Dallas Cowboys). The Ravens could be intrigued by Cromartie's ball skills and Carr's durability."
Priority No. 3: Bring in another receiver that can stretch the fieldHensley thinks the Ravens need to supplement what they have at wide receiver because of unproven Breshad Perriman and 36-year-old Steve Smith Sr., who is coming off Achilles surgery.
"The Ravens could take a flier on Victor Cruz if he's cut by the New York Giants," wrote Hensley. "He has averaged 15 yards per catch in his career, and serious injuries the past two years make him a question mark as well as a potential bargain buy. Another option is Brandon LaFell, who was cut by the New England Patriots. He won't beat defenders downfield with his speed, but he is a big-bodied target who can make contested catches. Smith could help in recruiting LaFell because they were teammates for four seasons with the Carolina Panthers."
Will Daryl Smith Really Return?
When the Ravens announced they had parted ways with Smith – whose role in helping smooth the transition from for the Ray Lewis era has largely gone under the radar – Newsome left the door open for his return.
"While we are releasing Daryl, we are not closing the door on the possibility of him returning to the Ravens," Newsome said. "He deserves an opportunity to see his market value at this time."
The decision likely wasn't easy as Smith has been a beloved leader in the locker room. But the Ravens likely saw the writing on the wall when they took Smith off the field in passing situations last year as he struggled in coverage.
Smith was reportedly scheduled to make $3.5 million in base salary ($4.375 million cap hit) in 2016, the third year of a reported four-year, $16 million deal. If he is to return, it will be for less than that.
Who Takes Over If Smith Doesn't Return: Zach Orr, Arthur Brown, Myles Jack?
There are plenty of ways the Ravens could try to fill the starting linebacker spot next to C.J. Mosley if Smith doesn't return.
First, there is Zachary Orr, who came in to relieve Smith in passing situations. The third-year linebacker is eager to compete for the starting job in 2016.
"If Daryl comes back, the competitor in me, I'd love to see him back," Orr told The Sun's Jon Meoli during the team's locker clean-out day. "But whether he's here or not, I'm going to come in trying to compete for a starting job. Regardless of what I've been doing the last couple years, I'm going to continue to do that the rest of my career."
There's also 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown, who hasn't played hardly any defense since he arrived on campus.
If the Ravens look to re-load through the draft, it's UCLA's Myles Jack who has become a popular name in Baltimore.
"This move might also suggest that the Ravens just might have their eyes set on Myles Jack," wrote Russell Street Report's Tony Lombardi. "Baltimore gets JACK-ed Up?"
Jack is a Swiss army knife* *who can play linebacker, safety and even running back. He was an All-American candidate before suffering a torn meniscus last September. After undergoing surgery, he withdrew from school to focus on preparing for the draft.
Scouts will mostly have to use his sophomore tape to project how well he will do in the NFL. He didn't run at the combine last week, awaiting clearance from doctors to be full-go. UCLA's Pro Day will be big for Jack.
While he did a little of everything in college, he projects as an inside linebacker at the NFL level.
"The linebacker position is more valuable than ever in today's NFL, particularly three-down options that can cover and play the run," wrote Pro Football Focus' Steve Palazzolo. "Jack can be just that after he led the nation's linebackers with a coverage grade of 14.7 in 2014 before coming out in 2015 and attacking blocks in the run game better than ever. While he was limited to only 207 snaps last season, Jack's coverage ability and potential against the run give him the required versatility of a top NFL linebacker."