Ravens Have Numerous Salary Cap Options to Explore
In recent years, Baltimore has had little cap space to work with when constructing its 53-man roster. According to Spotrac, the Ravens ranked No. 21 in the league in available cap space last year and No. 27 in 2016.
It's a different story this year.
Currently, the Ravens have nearly $12 million in total cap space, which is the 11th most in the NFL. Some of that money will be set aside in case of injuries, but that's still more to work with than usual, and there are plenty of ways the Ravens could spend it.
Sign free agents: This is a simple scenario – the money can be spent on players who aren't on a team.
CB Bashaud Breeland
Because of cornerback Jimmy Smith's four-game suspension, one area where there's been plenty of speculation about signing a new player is the secondary. The big-name cornerback without a team is Breeland, after a season in which he finished with 50 tackles and three interceptions for the Washington Redskins.
Breeland actually visited the Ravens a few weeks ago and despite the meeting going well, Breeland left without signing a contract. With it being closer to the regular season, Breeland's price could drop.
G Luke Joeckel
Another area the Ravens could try to strengthen is offensive line depth. As noted by The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec, the combination of center Bradley Bozeman, guard Jermaine Eluemunor, offensive tackle Greg Senat and guard Nico Siragusa, who are the players battling for backup spots, "have eight NFL games between them, all by Eluemunor."
If the Ravens want more experience, they could pick up someone like guard Luke Joeckel, who is one of the top 15 available free agents, according to CBSSports' Joel Corry. The second-overall pick from the 2013 NFL Draft, Joeckel's career has been derailed by injuries. He was rated by Pro Football Focus as the No. 52 guard in the NFL last season when he played for the Seattle Seahawks.
"2017 second-round pick Ethan Pocic's emergence during the five games Joeckel missed because of minor knee surgery made re-signing him unnecessary," Corry wrote.
Last year, the Ravens added two offensive linemen late in the preseason, neither of which are still with the team – centers Luke Bowanko and Tony Bergstrom.
Sign players who get cut: The Ravens could wait and see who other teams cut as they construct their 53-man squads.
CB Cyrus Jones (New England)
Bleacher Report's Steve Silverman highlighted Jones as someone who could be cut. Jones, a Baltimore native who attended Gilman School, was a second-round pick out of Alabama in 2016 that could be an interesting option for the Ravens. He served as New England's primary kick and punt returner as a rookie, before missing last season with a torn ACL. Given Smith's suspension and nobody taking control in the return specialist battle, Jones could be appealing if he became available.
"The defensive back appears to be healthy this year, but he has to prove he can catch punts consistently and also has the speed that made the Patriots draft him in the first place," Silverman wrote.
RB Mike Gillislee (New England)
Gillislee is highlighted by Bleacher Report's Maurice Moton as someone who could become a salary-cap casualty. Though the Ravens appear set at running back, Kenneth Dixon has battled injuries throughout his career, as well as this training camp. Dixon looked good in his preseason debut against the Colts, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. If his health becomes an issue again, and if Gillislee is available, the Ravens could explore that option.
"The sixth-year veteran led the team in rushing attempts in each of the first five regular-season games in 2017," Moton wrote. "Nonetheless, the coaching staff listed him as a healthy scratch late in the year."
Extend the contracts of its own: Baltimore could also use its surplus of cash on its players, and extend their contracts.
ILB C.J. Mosley
The Ravens would love to extend Mosley beyond his rookie deal, which ends after this season. Mosley has also said he would like to stay in Baltimore, so spending money on him would make a lot of sense. With Mosley being a three-time Pro Bowler already in his four-year career, nobody in Baltimore would be upset to see No. 57 in purple and black beyond 2018.
Teams normally sign extensions to save money against the cap in the current season, but the fact that the Ravens have more flexibility could give them more ways to successfully structure a deal with Mosley.
This scenario makes a lot of sense. Due to the Ravens' large draft class, as well as how healthy the team has been during the preseason (knock on wood), there's more talent and depth than in previous years. Adding one or two new players to the equation will make roster decisions even trickier.
As Baltimore Beatdown's Jacob Louque noted, "Having such a successful camp in all of these different facets leads to the champagne problem of not having enough space on the roster to keep certain players they may like."
Veterans on the Roster Bubble
The Ravens have many tough decisions to make this year as they construct their 53-man roster. PennLive's Aaron Kasinitz highlighted five veterans that he believes are currently on the bubble to make the Ravens' Week 1 roster.
ILB Albert McClellan: An undrafted free agent who first saw the field for the Ravens in 2011, McClellan has been a special teams ace throughout his career. Though Kasinitz thinks he offers "versatility in the middle of the defense," he also thinks McClellan is on the bubble.
"Undrafted rookie linebacker Chris Board is among the young players who's impressed on special teams and could make McClellan expendable," Kasinitz wrote. "Though McClellan played a career-high 603 defensive snaps in 2016, he missed last year with an ACL tear and is entering his age 32 season."
TE Maxx Williams: The 2015 second-round pick has been on these types of lists since the Ravens drafted tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews. Williams has made just one catch in preseason games, but it was for a touchdown. While Kasinitz wrote, "there might be reason for the Ravens to squeeze away a roster spot at tight end," RavensWire's Matthew Stevens has Williams making the team.
"He plays all over the offense — at wide receiver, receiving tight end, blocking tight end, full back," Stevens wrote. "With that type of versatility, it's hard to dismiss him from the team."
DT Carl Davis: Kasinitz believes Davis is on the bubble because of how deep the Ravens are along the defensive line. The 2015 third-round pick has played well this preseason and could easily figure into the team's plans this season, but with other players doing well, Davis has stiff competition.
"Seventh-round rookie Zach Sieler has put together a strong push for a roster spot. If a veteran is on the chopping block, it might be Davis," Kasinitz wrote.
Runnings Backs Rated in Lower Half of AFC North
While there's a lot of excitement surrounding Baltimore's collection of running backs this season, RavensWire's Kevin Oestreicher sees the group as third best in the AFC North.
Oestreicher projects Pittsburgh's and Cleveland's running backs ahead of Baltimore's, though he noted "each team has multiple solid options at the position, and the star power of some of these players is unquestioned."
"Overall the Ravens have a good starting running back with good depth behind him, but so much is reliant upon Collins repeating his amazing first season," Oestreicher wrote.
There is plenty of reason to believe Collins will not only be able to replicate his form from 2017, but exceed it. Keep in mind, Collins managed to rush for 973 yards despite not starting until Week 4.
"He showed his ability to break tackles and run hard, as well as finish every single run," Oestreicher wrote.
One way that Collins could see his production increase is in the passing game. Collins finished the season with just 23 receptions for 187 yards, though his 8.1 yards per catch suggests that if he's thrown the ball, he'll make plays.
Sidenote for fantasy football owners out there: it looks like you'll be able to get tremendous value from Collins this season, according to Bleacher Report's Paul Kasabian. Per FantasyPros, on average Collins is getting drafted No. 34 this year, which is far too low for Kasabian.
"It will be interesting to see how Collins fares as the No. 1 back for a full season," Kasabian wrote. "If his efficiency is anything like last year, then he would be a steal if taken anywhere past the third round."
After Collins, Buck Allen is expected to be the Ravens' No. 2 running back. Oestreicher views Allen as "a good change-of-pace back who runs hard and can do damage in the open field." Allen has looked good in his small cameos during preseason, averaging 5.5 yards per carry, though he also fumbled a handoff Monday night.
Behind Allen, Dixon, who showed promise in his rookie season, is expected to round out the trio, though that will hinge on his ability to stay healthy after missing the 2017 season with a torn meniscus in his left knee. Dixon returned to game action against the Colts and did well, rushing for 32 yards while also hauling in three catches for 24 yards.
"More than at any point this summer on the practice field, Dixon once again resembled the player the Ravens had in 2016. That's a good sign for the Ravens," PressBox's Bo Smolka wrote.
It's a very talented group, that is rated in the lower half of the division simply because of the talent in the AFC North. With Le'veon Bell, a three-time Pro Bowler, leading the way for the Steelers, it's not shocking their group ranks at the top.
Cleveland's group of running backs finishing ahead of Baltimore's may raise a few eyebrows. The Browns have bolstered their unit this offseason by signing Carlos Hyde from the San Francisco 49ers and drafting Nick Chubb in the second round. Throw in returning Duke Johnson Jr., and the Browns have a strong trio of running backs, just like the Ravens.
Thankfully, the Ravens expect to have a strong run defense in 2018.
Art Modell Not Named Among Finalists for Pro Football Hall of Fame
The Pro Football Hall of Fame named Pat Bowlen, longtime owner of the Denver Broncos, and Gil Brandt, who served as the vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys from 1960-89, as its finalists to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019 as contributors to the game.
Not named with Bowlen and Brandt is the man who brought football back to Baltimore, Art Modell.
Modell owned the Cleveland Browns from 1961-1995. He moved the franchise to Baltimore in 1996, renaming them as the Ravens in the process and leaving the Browns' history and brand in Cleveland. He owned the Ravens when the franchise won Super Bowl XXXV. In 2004, he sold the majority stake in the team to Steve Bisciotti.
Modell is a crucial figure in the NFL's history that helped usher the league into the modern era. He drove the creation of "Monday Night Football," and was a visionary when it came to putting football on television. Among many other accomplishments, Modell was the Chairman for both the NFL's Television Committee from 1962-93 and the Owners' Labor Committee in 1968.
In addition to the Ravens victory in Super Bowl XXXV, he owned the Browns when the team won the NFL Championship in 1964.
It would have been a great year for him to be up for it on the heels of inside linebacker Ray Lewis' induction to the Hall of Fame this summer, and with free safety Ed Reed expected to join him in Canton next year.
To read more about Modell's career achievements, click here.
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