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Ngata bids farewell to Ravens fans with full-page ad

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Ngata bids farewell to Ravens fans with full-page ad

Posted on 15 March 2015 by Luke Jones

Former Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata capped a wild week by bidding farewell to the city of Baltimore on Sunday.

The five-time Pro Bowl selection took out a full-page ad in The Baltimore Sun in which he thanked fans as well as the Ravens organization after nine years together. On Tuesday, general manager Ozzie Newsome traded Ngata to the Detroit Lions in exchange for fourth-round and fifth-round selections in this spring’s draft after the sides were unable to work out a contract extension to lower his $16 million salary cap figure for the 2015 season.

With several days to reflect on the 31-year-old’s career in Baltimore, where would you rank Ngata among the greatest players in franchise history? You could probably make a decent argument to list him as high as fourth behind the slam-dunk trio of Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, but others such as Terrell Suggs, Peter Boulware, Jamal Lewis, and Joe Flacco are very much in the argument to be ranked just behind those first three.

Feel free to make your argument in the comments section for where Ngata should rank.

Below is what the 2006 first-round pick wrote in Sunday’s full-page ad:

Dear Baltimore,

Although my playing days have come to an end here in Baltimore, my family and I want to say an enormous thank you to the great people in this city and the members of Ravens Nation everywhere. It has been the privilege of a lifetime to play for the Baltimore Ravens for the last nine years and to hear you passionately cheering us on each and every week.

I want you to know how much I appreciate the way you welcomed me in and made me a part of the Baltimore community. When I came to Baltimore as a rookie, I did not know anyone in Maryland. And, yet, for nearly a decade, you provided the perfect place for me to develop as a player, grow as a man, start a life with my wife, raise my three boys, make friendships that will last a lifetime, and have experiences I will treasure forever.

I would like to thank the Modell family for their everlasting support; Mr. Steve Bisciotti for his great leadership in the Ravens’ organization; Mr. Ozzie Newsome for drafting me and bringing me to the Ravens; coach Brian Billick for coaching me during my early years; and coach John Harbaugh for teaching us to “Play Like a Raven” and coaching us to the ultimate goal: Super Bowl XLVII champions! To each coach and each staff member at the Ravens’ facility, past and present: thank you. I could not have had the career I did in Baltimore without your help.

I also need to thank my brothers-in-arms. I have played with the best teammates any athlete could ask for. Thank you for pushing me to become the best player I could be. The things we have accomplished together as Baltimore Ravens will link us together forever with a bond that cannot be broken.

Last, I want to give a public shoutout to my brothers and sister. Thank you for your undying love and support. Mom and Dad are proud when they look down on us from above.

I am looking forward to the experiences that await my family and me in the future, but please know that I will carry a part of Ravens Nation with me in my heart wherever I go for the rest of my life.

Ofa Lahi Atu,
Haloti Ngata, #92

 

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Ngata trade puts Ravens in enviable 2015 draft position

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Ngata trade puts Ravens in enviable 2015 draft position

Posted on 11 March 2015 by Luke Jones

Moving beyond the initial disappointment of trading one of the greatest players in franchise history, the Ravens should feel good about the return they received in trading defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to the Detroit Lions.

Baltimore’s salary cap issues were no secret to anyone, so general manager Ozzie Newsome fetching fourth-round and fifth-round choices in this year’s draft for a 31-year-old entering the final year of a contract paying him $8.5 million this season is a strong haul, especially when most expected Ngata to be released if the Ravens couldn’t sign him to an extension. Mid-round picks shouldn’t be dismissed for an organization that’s seen two recent fifth-round choices — Arthur Jones and Pernell McPhee — receive big deals in free agency in the last two offseasons after strong runs in Baltimore.

The Ravens are now projected to have no fewer than 10 selections in this year’s draft as they currently hold seven picks and are expected to be rewarded at least three compensatory picks later this month. Newsome has his original draft choices in the first four rounds, the two picks from the Lions, and a sixth-round selection acquired from the Dallas Cowboys in last summer’s Rolando McClain trade.

Newsome dealt his original 2015 fifth-round pick to Tampa Bay for center Jeremy Zuttah last year and his 2015 sixth-round pick to Cleveland in order to draft wide receiver Michael Campanaro last year. The Ravens also traded a seventh-round choice to Detroit as part of the Ngata trade.

With obvious needs at wide receiver, tight end, running back, and in the secondary and just under $10 million in cap space to address them, Newsome and the Ravens will need to seize their opportunities in the draft beginning on April 30.

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Ravens trade five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ngata to Detroit

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Ravens trade five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ngata to Detroit

Posted on 10 March 2015 by Luke Jones

A nine-year run that included five Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl championship wasn’t enough to continue a relationship between the Ravens and longtime defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

The organization announced the trade of Ngata to the Detroit Lions on Tuesday afternoon, a move that will net the Ravens fourth and fifth-round selections in this year’s draft. General manager Ozzie Newsome will also send his 2015 seventh-round selection to the Lions.

Ngata had one season remaining on a five-year, $61 million contract that was signed in 2011. The 31-year-old was scheduled to make $8.5 million in base salary and to carry a $16 million salary cap figure, realities that were problematic for the Ravens this offseason. The move clears $8.5 million in much-needed space while leaving $7.5 million in dead money on the 2015 cap.

With Detroit losing Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to the Miami Dolphins in free agency, Ngata will not only rejoin former Ravens assistants Jim Caldwell and Teryl Austin in Detroit, but he will fill a major void on the Lions defensive line. The decision to trade Ngata also prevents him from joining an AFC rival, something that would have been possible had he been released. While two Day 3 draft selections aren’t a tremendous return for one of the best players in franchise history, the Ravens didn’t have great negotiating leverage considering most expected Ngata to be released if the sides didn’t work out a deal.

“Haloti has been an outstanding player for us for many years,” Newsome said in a team statement. “He consistently showed tremendous leadership in our locker room and on the field. At times, he was one of the NFL’s most dominant players.”

Since last year, Baltimore had explored a contract extension with Ngata to lessen his cap hit and afford him the opportunity to finish his career with the Ravens like future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis and current teammate Terrell Suggs, who signed a four-year, $20.7 million extension that included $16 million guaranteed last offseason. Instead, Ngata follows in the footsteps of safety Ed Reed and will now finish his career elsewhere.

Head coach John Harbaugh expressed strong optimism last month that the organization would get a deal done with Ngata, but members of the organization offered a more tempered approach two weeks ago during the “State of the Ravens” press conference.

“You go back to Suggs, we were able to successfully do that, which doesn’t guarantee that he retires as a Raven, but it certainly guaranteed that we would play him well into his 30s,” owner Steve Bisciotti said last month. “We were successful with Ray; we were unsuccessful with Ed. I put Haloti in that group of iconic players that helped us to get where we are as a franchise.”

The 6-foot-4, 340-pound Ngata undoubtedly goes down as one of the most decorated players in franchise history with only Lewis (13), Jonathan Ogden (11), Reed (nine), and Suggs (six) making it to more Pro Bowls in their time with the Ravens. But it is fair to question how much longer he will continue to play at a high level after nagging injuries hindered his performance in 2012 and 2013.

A strong 2014 campaign certainly improved Ngata’s value in the eyes of the Ravens, but a four-game suspension for Adderall allowed the organization to get an extended look at 2014 second-round pick Timmy Jernigan, who filled in admirably over the final month of the regular season before injuring his ankle in the regular-season finale. Jernigan and starting nose tackle Brandon Williams will now be expected to lead a defensive line that’s parted ways with Ngata and veteran Chris Canty this offseason.

The old adage of letting go of a player a year too early being preferable to a season or two too late applies in this case despite the void Ngata leaves behind in terms of both production on the field and leadership in the locker room. Even with Jernigan ready to step into a bigger role, the Ravens would benefit from adding another run-stuffing defensive tackle via the draft or free agency.

The 12th overall pick of the 2006 draft, Ngata was tied with punter Sam Koch for having the second-longest tenure with the Ravens behind Suggs. Going into the 2014 season, the University of Oregon product expressed hope that he would finish his career in Baltimore, but reports have indicated that Ngata and agent Mike McCartney weren’t willing to be as flexible as Suggs was in finding a compromise with the Ravens last winter.

“I would love to be a Raven for life,” Ngata said last June. “If we can get something done, that’d be great. We’ll just let my agent and Ozzie take care of that business off the field.”

In 2014, Ngata collected 31 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and seven pass breakups. His run of five consecutive Pro Bowl nods was snapped this past season after his suspension for Adderall, which the NFL considers a performance-enhancing drug.

The Ravens will be challenged in replacing Ngata’s ability against the run as they finished fifth or better in the NFL in run defense seven times and ranked eighth or better in yards per carry allowed in every one of Ngata’s nine seasons anchoring the defensive line. Baltimore also allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns and the second-fewest rushing yards per game in the NFL during Ngata’s career.

He finishes with 445 tackles, 25 1/2 sacks, six forced fumbles, and five interceptions in his nine-year career with the Ravens.

 

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Suggs restructure puts band-aid on Ravens’ cap woes

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Suggs restructure puts band-aid on Ravens’ cap woes

Posted on 10 March 2015 by Luke Jones

Needing to be under the 2015 salary cap by 4 p.m. Tuesday, the Ravens found a temporary band-aid by restructuring the contract of veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs.

According to The Sun, Baltimore has converted $3 million of Suggs’ scheduled $4 million base salary for 2015 into a bonus, which will create an additional $2.25 million in cap space for this season. The move also adds an extra $750,000 to Suggs’ cap figures for 2016, 2017, and 2018, which isn’t substantial but is still something the Ravens try to avoid doing.

Last offseason, Suggs signed a four-year extension that gives the six-time Pro Bowl selection an excellent chance to finish his career in Baltimore.

The move was necessary to get the Ravens below the salary cap after they had tendered their restricted and exclusive-rights free agents on Monday. However, it still leaves them with work to do if they want to re-sign any of their unrestricted free agents or explore other players available on the open market.

General manager Ozzie Newsome would still like to get something done with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to provide relief from his current $16 million cap figure in the final year of his contract. However, the NFL Network reported Tuesday morning that the “status quo” is likely remain between the Ravens and Ngata, which would do the organization no favors in trying to add other players to the current roster this offseason.

The restructuring of Suggs’ deal is a sign that the Ravens are trying to buy more time to work something out with Ngata, but it’s difficult to imagine this offseason being a productive one without movement on the five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle’s contract.

The Ravens are also trying to restructure the contract of veteran cornerback Lardarius Webb, who currently carries a $12 million cap figure for the 2015 season.

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Ravens’ cap issues linger as free-agent negotiating window opens

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Ravens’ cap issues linger as free-agent negotiating window opens

Posted on 07 March 2015 by Luke Jones

With the start of free agency only days away, the Ravens still have work to do to improve a tight salary-cap situation that threatens to hinder their ability to not only re-sign their own free agents but to add outside talent to the roster.

On Saturday, teams were allowed to enter contract negotiations with the certified agents of other NFL teams’ unrestricted free agents, but they are not allowed to complete a deal until 4 p.m. Tuesday when free agency officially begins. Of course, the reality is that teams and agents have been talking through back channels for weeks — February’s scouting combine in Indianapolis has long been considered a tampering haven — and a number of deals will be all but official before Tuesday afternoon.

The Ravens are currently just $4.639 million under the salary cap, resources that will be exhausted when they tender their list of restricted and exclusive-rights free agents by Tuesday’s deadline.

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and cornerback Lardarius Webb remain the two biggest names who will impact the salary cap as the Ravens continue to try to rework their existing deals. Carrying a $16 million cap figure in the final season of his five-year, $61 million contract, Ngata is expected to be released if the Ravens cannot work out an extension by Tuesday and there have been no indications that a deal is close to happening. Cutting the five-time Pro Bowl selection would save $8.5 million in savings while leaving $7.5 million in dead money on the 2015 salary cap.

Webb’s situation is more complex as he carries a $12 million cap figure and the Ravens would like him to accept a cut from the $8 million base salary he’s owed for 2015. Cutting the 29-year-old would result in only $2 million in savings — in addition to further weakening the cornerback position — unless the Ravens designate him a post-June 1 release, which would mean his cap figure would remain on the books until long after most free-agent activity is already over.

Of course, the Ravens could make other cap-saving releases after parting ways with veterans Jacoby Jones and Chris Canty in the last two weeks. Other potential casualties include center Gino Gradkowski, linebacker Albert McClellan, and punter Sam Koch.

But the entire offseason remains in a holding pattern until resolutions are found with both Ngata and Webb.

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Five hot topics for “State of the Ravens” address

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Five hot topics for “State of the Ravens” address

Posted on 23 February 2015 by Luke Jones

More than a month after their season-ending loss to New England in the divisional round, the Ravens will finally hold their annual “State of the Ravens” press conference Tuesday afternoon as they look back at last year and offer a look into their offseason plans to improve for 2015.

Below are five topics of interest that are likely to be covered at length:

1. Off-field conduct

A lingering Ray Rice question or two will be asked — particularly of team president Dick Cass, who hasn’t addressed the matter in a press conference setting — but the focus will likely fall on what the organization is doing to address off-field concerns that included five arrests last offseason and ex-Raven Terrence Cody and safety Will Hill already surfacing in the news over the last month. Head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged in January that the bar is higher in terms of expectations, but concerns will remain until the Ravens can show last year was an aberration and not a lack of organizational control.

2. The future of Haloti Ngata

The five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle’s future and $16 million salary cap figure for 2015 have been dissected ad nauseam, but it will be interesting to listen to general manager Ozzie Newsome’s thoughts after Harbaugh expressed confidence last week that an extension would get done. Even though he ultimately inked linebacker Terrell Suggs to a new deal last winter, Newsome made it clear at last year’s “State of the Ravens” that he wasn’t afraid of letting a good player walk out the door. You wonder if we’ll hear a similar “bad cop” routine from Newsome to contrast Harbaugh’s optimism and put some heat on the veteran player.

3. Fixing the secondary

Newsome has often said you can never have too many good cornerbacks, but there’s no question the Ravens were lacking at that position last year even before the season-ending injury to top corner Jimmy Smith. Veteran Lardarius Webb carries a $12 million cap figure and is a likely candidate for a pay cut or a restructure deal, but the Ravens need to find a cornerback — maybe two — who is ready to step into a meaningful role. Safety might be an even bigger concern with Hill’s off-field baggage and the disappointing starts to the NFL careers of Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks.

4. Taking care of their own 

Much of this will hinge on a tight cap situation, but the Ravens proved last year that they were more concerned with taking care of their own than jumping into the free-agent market after re-signing Eugene Monroe, Daryl Smith, Dennis Pitta, and Jacoby Jones. The Ravens would love to have wide receiver Torrey Smith, running back Justin Forsett, and tight end Owen Daniels back next season, but how realistic is that with so few resources available? An offense that took major strides a year ago will already be dealing with new offensive coordinator, but it’s possible there will be significant player turnover as well.

5. Offseason surgical procedures and health concerns

Pitta’s future is bound to come up again after Harbaugh presented a less-than-encouraging update last week, but the end-of-season press conference typically brings updates on other players who’ve undergone offseason surgeries. The Sun reported earlier this month that center Jeremy Zuttah underwent a cleanup procedure for his hip, but the Ravens also have a number of players continuing to recover from season-ending injuries including Jimmy Smith, right tackle Rick Wagner, running back Lorenzo Taliaferro, cornerback Asa Jackson, and Brooks.

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Harbaugh doesn’t have any doubt Ngata deal will get done

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Harbaugh doesn’t have any doubt Ngata deal will get done

Posted on 18 February 2015 by Luke Jones

INDIANAPOLIS — Addressing one of the biggest questions of the offseason, head coach John Harbaugh expressed confidence Wednesday that the Ravens will work out a contract extension with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

The five-time Pro Bowl selection carries a $16 million salary cap figure in the final season of a five-year, $61 million contract, but Baltimore is desperately trying to clear cap space by working out an extension that would lower his cap figure by several million dollars and allow the 2006 first-round pick to finish his career with the Ravens. Some have expressed doubt over whether the organization should invest more money in a 31-year-old defensive tackle, but Harbaugh sees plenty of good football in Ngata’s future.

“Haloti’s going to play great. He loves Baltimore. He loves the fans. He loves the organization,” the eighth-year head coach told WNST.net at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. “He wants to be here. We want him here. It’s just a matter of [senior vice president of football administration] Pat Moriarty and [Ngata’s agent] Mike McCartney coming to terms on something that Haloti feels great about and the organization feels great about. I’m real confident we can get that done. I really believe it will get done. I don’t have any doubt in my mind it’ll get done, but it’s got to get done.”

The Ravens are hoping to re-sign the likes of wide receiver Torrey Smith, running back Justin Forsett, and tight end Owen Daniels before they hit free agency next month, making a Ngata resolution a must to clear cap room. After drafting defensive tackles Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan in the last two years, the Ravens have built substantial depth around Ngata, but it’s clear they want to continue the relationship at a price that makes sense for both sides.

The Ravens would save $8.5 million in cap space by cutting the veteran defensive lineman.

Harbaugh acknowledged it can be difficult assessing the value of cornerstone players approaching the latter stages of their careers, but he applauded the organization’s ability over the years to project how veteran players will perform in the future. This has led to long-term contract extensions for linebackers Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis, who were both past the age of 30, in the Harbaugh era.

Despite a four-game suspension for Adderall in December, Ngata had his best season in a few years, making 31 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, seven pass breakups, and two interceptions in 2014.

“Any contract is for what you expect. It’s not for what somebody’s [already] done,” Harbaugh said. “You never pay backwards. You pay forward, so you’ve got to take that into consideration. I think we do a great job of understanding that a lot of what a guy’s done kind of helps predict that in terms of who they are. You’ve got to make a determination.”

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Is Jernigan ready to replace Ngata if needed?

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Is Jernigan ready to replace Ngata if needed?

Posted on 09 February 2015 by Luke Jones

As the future of Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata appears to be moving toward a resolution after months of speculation, little focus has been placed on the man who could replace him on the starting defensive line.

The 22-year-old Timmy Jernigan provided a good return in his rookie season after the Ravens selected him with the 48th overall pick last May, but does the Florida State product satisfy the “80-20″ rule quoted by some as justification to release Ngata if the sides are unable to work out a contract extension in the coming weeks? It’s easy to look at Ngata’s scheduled $16 million cap figure for 2015 and a potential $8.5 million in salary-cap savings and sign off on a divorce from a financial standpoint, but general manager Ozzie Newsome must be sure a deep — but young — defensive line has the means to replace the five-time Pro Bowl selection.

Despite missing five games due to knee and ankle injuries in his rookie season in Baltimore, Jernigan flashed his potential on more than one occasion, but did the Ravens see enough in his part-time role to envision heavier responsibilities as soon as this coming season? At least one veteran teammate was impressed as Jernigan filled in for Ngata during the latter’s four-game suspension for Adderall use.

“He’s a dog. He’s going to be a really good football player for a long time in the National Football League,” defensive end Chris Canty said in late December. “I noticed that when I came here for the minicamp [last June], just his aggressive play, his physical nature, his quick twitch jumping off the ball. He’s got a lot of great attributes. He’s constantly learning from [defensive line coach Clarence Brooks] and some of the other vets on the nuances of the game.”

It may be that four-game ban that provided the Ravens with the necessary leverage and confidence to negotiate more rigidly with Ngata this offseason. In four games as his primary replacement to close the regular season, Jernigan collected two sacks and seven tackles and earned a positive grade from Pro Football Focus in all but one contest — the 25-13 loss to Houston in which little went right for the Ravens.

Prior to suffering the ankle injury that forced him out of the regular-season finale against Cleveland and the wild-card round against Pittsburgh, Jernigan played in more than half of the Ravens’ defensive snaps in three straight games and fared well in an increased role. It was the only time all season he held an expanded role as he typically served as a replacement for Ngata or Brandon Williams every few series and as a rush specialist in certain passing situations.

Of all 3-4 defensive ends who appeared in at least 25 percent of his team’s snaps, Jernigan earned PFF’s 14th-highest cumulative grade while Ngata finished ninth. The optimist views such an assessment as there being room for Jernigan to grade even higher with more opportunities while skeptics may wonder if extensive playing time might expose the young defensive lineman’s shortcomings.

At 6-foot-2 and 300 pounds, the undersized Jernigan doesn’t compare to Ngata’s 6-foot-4, 340-pound presence, but few players do. And let’s not forget how third-year nose tackle Brandon Williams will fit into the picture after emerging as an above-average player in his first season as a starter. Comparing Jernigan’s skill set to Ngata in his prime would be unfair, but his quickness, strength, and leverage at the 3-technique project well — even if he lacks Ngata’s massive frame — against the run and as a rusher.

In 330 defensive snaps last year, Jernigan amassed 23 tackles and four sacks. Ngata collected 31 tackles, two sacks, seven pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and two interceptions in 546 defensive snaps. According to PFF, Jernigan’s 12 quarterback hurries and seven quarterback hits outdid Ngata (14 hurries and two quarterback hits) and the rookie registered 14 “stops” (defined as the number of solo tackles including sacks made which constituted an offensive failure) compared to Ngata’s 16.

Durability is a question as meniscus surgery sidelined Jernigan for four games early in the season, but he rebounded quickly from the ankle injury in Week 17 to return for the divisional round after only a one-game absence. Returning to a rotational role, Jernigan sacked New England quarterback Tom Brady and collected another tackle in the 35-31 loss that ended Baltimore’s season.

It might be unfair to ask whether Jernigan will be the better player in 2015, but wondering if the young defensive tackle will outperform Ngata by 2016 and 2017 when the veteran is approaching his mid-30s is an entirely different matter. And that could be the tipping point as the Ravens try to determine a dollar figure that makes sense for extending their 31-year-old defensive tackle, who had a strong 2014 season but battled nagging injuries that hindered his play in the previous two years.

“Once he puts it all together and the game slows down for him, it’s going to be scary,” said Canty late last season about Jernigan’s potential. “It’s going to be really scary. He’s going to be really, really good.”

Depending on what happens with Ngata, the Ravens may need Jernigan’s full potential to be realized sooner rather than later.

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Examining the Ravens’ possible 2015 salary cap cuts

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Examining the Ravens’ possible 2015 salary cap cuts

Posted on 03 February 2015 by Luke Jones

With Super Bowl XLIX now in the books and the 2014 season officially over, the Ravens are continuing to make plans for 2015 as they evaluate a tight salary cap and try to improve from a 10-6 campaign that resulted in a trip to the divisional round of the playoffs.

The NFL has yet to set the 2015 salary cap, which is projected to increase from $133 million this past season to somewhere between $138 million and $142 million for the upcoming year. That’s good news for the Ravens as they currently own a commitment of over $137 million for players currently under contract, per Spotrac.com.

With a slew of key free agents to address as well as visions of trying to improve other areas of the roster, general manager Ozzie Newsome will face some difficult decisions pertaining to several veterans on the roster. That begins and ends with five-time Pro Bowl selection Haloti Ngata, who is entering the final season of a five-year, $61 million deal signed in 2011. Easily one of the best players in franchise history, the 31-year-old defensive tackle finds himself in a similar position to the one Terrell Suggs was in last year before he signed a contract extension to lower his 2014 cap figure.

A name not included on the list of potential cap casualties below is tight end Dennis Pitta, whose $4 million base salary for 2015 is guaranteed. It remains unclear whether Pitta will play football again after suffering two serious hip injuries in two years, but cutting him this offseason would increase his cap figure for 2015.

It’s important to remember the rule of 51 as the top 51 cap numbers on the roster count against the salary cap. The savings from any released player are offset in part by an additional player jumping into the top 51 from the bottom of the list. For example, if a released player carrying a $3 million cap number is replaced in the top 51 by another player carrying a $405,000 cap number, the end result is a $2.595 million savings on the salary cap.

Here’s how I’d rank the list of possible candidates to be cut for cap purposes (with the pre-June 1 cap savings noted in parentheses), in order from most likely to least likely:

1. DE Chris Canty ($2.66 million)
Skinny: The 32-year-old may take this decision out of the Ravens’ hands as he acknowledged at the end of the season that he’s contemplating retirement. Injuries limited his production in 2014, and the Ravens will likely push to re-sign the underrated Lawrence Guy while looking toward young defensive linemen Brent Urban and Kapron Lewis-Moore to be factors at Canty’s 5-technique defensive end spot. With so many other pressing needs elsewhere and a few younger options at this position, Canty returning would be more of a luxury than a necessity for next season, making it likely that he’s played his final game with Baltimore.

2. WR Jacoby Jones ($750,000)
Skinny: On the surface, the minimal savings gained by cutting the return specialist now wouldn’t appear worth it, but you have to wonder where Jones fits after falling behind the likes of Marlon Brown and Kamar Aiken on the depth chart and not appearing as explosive in the return game in 2014. A possible strategy would be to designate Jones as a post-June 1 cut, which would create $2.5 million in savings for the summer and autumn when the Ravens need a “rainy day” fund to account for injuries. The only problem with that strategy is his scheduled 2015 cap number of $3.375 million staying on the books during the first few months of free agency, but it just doesn’t feel like there’s a place for Jones moving forward.

3. LB Albert McClellan ($1 million)
Skinny: A core member of Jerry Rosburgh’s special teams units over the last few years, McClellan has been a reliable player, but other young inside linebackers such as Arthur Brown and Zachary Orr are cheaper and should be ready to handle more responsibility. Of course, we’re not talking about a great deal of savings here, but veteran special-teams players are typically among the first to go when teams are dealing with cap pains.

4. P Sam Koch ($2.5 million)
Skinny: Many assumed Koch would be a cap casualty last year with his high price tag for a punter, but the Ravens value his ability a great deal and regard him as one of the best in the NFL. That said, Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker is a restricted free agent and will be looking for a long-term contract over the next 12 months. If Koch is willing to sign a team-friendly extension to lower his cap number, the Ravens would be more than happy to keep him around, but they probably can’t afford to pay their kicker and punter in the top 10 at their respective positions. Entering the final year of his contract, Koch is more likely to be a casualty this year than he was last offseason.

5. DT Haloti Ngata ($8.5 million)
Skinny: The only certainty is that the longtime Raven won’t be playing for his scheduled $16 million cap figure. Whether that means he signs an extension like Suggs or is cut remains to be seen. Ngata’s 2014 season was his best in a few years, but his four-game suspension for Adderall use allowed the Ravens to take an extended look at 2014 second-round pick Timmy Jernigan, who played very well in the 31-year-old’s absence. The sides talked about an extension last season with little progress, so it will be interesting to see how motivated Ngata is to make amends for his suspension and finish his career in Baltimore. The Ravens must be smart as it’s typically unwise to throw money at defensive linemen on the wrong side of 30.

6. CB Lardarius Webb ($2 million)
Skinny: It was a disappointing year for the 29-year-old after he missed all of training camp and three of the first four games of the season with a back injury. Since suffering the second anterior cruciate ligament tear of his career in 2012, Webb has looked like nothing better than average, which is problematic when he’s carrying a $12 million cap figure for 2015. However, cutting him this winter would only save $2 million and create less depth at a position where the Ravens are already looking to improve. Newsome may ask Webb to take a pay cut, but it’s difficult envisioning the Ravens depleting their depth at cornerback further — even if he’s no more than average at this pointby cutting him outright for minimal savings.

 

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Saturday

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Saturday

Posted on 09 January 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have made a mostly-pleasant habit of traveling to Foxborough in January to take on the New England Patriots.

The latest chapter in this underrated rivalry will be written Saturday with Baltimore eyeing its fourth trip to the AFC Championship game under head coach John Harbaugh. Meanwhile, the No. 1 seed Patriots are seeking their first championship in a decade with 37-year-old quarterback Tom Brady not getting any younger.

Joe Flacco will try to continue an impeccable postseason run in which he’s thrown 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions over his last nine playoff games. The seventh-year signal-caller has thrown 13 touchdowns without an interception in leading the Ravens to wins in their last five postseason contests.

Who will win on Saturday?

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It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Patriots meet for the fourth time ever in the playoffs — all have been in Foxborough — with Baltimore holding a 2-1 edge. New England leads the all-time regular-season series by a 7-1 margin despite the Ravens’ postseason success at Gillette Stadium.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to hand New England another loss in the postseason …

1. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will be chased by Will Hill most of the day while catching a touchdown and posting 100 receiving yards. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will throw the kitchen sink at New England in trying to cover the All-Pro tight end, but Hill will draw most of the responsibility with little success. The 6-foot-1, 207-pound safety did an admirable job in holding New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham to six catches for 47 yards in late November, but Gronkowski has played at a different level than anyone at his position this year and is more physical. Brady will go to him early and often to try to offset a Baltimore pass rush bearing down on him.

2. Three of the Ravens’ sacks against Brady will come from inside pressure. Four has been the magic number for the Ravens as they’ve collected at least four sacks in their last eight wins and are 0-4 when failing to reach the plateau over that stretch. Brady was sacked just 21 times this year, but his quick release was a bigger factor in that statistic than an offensive line that’s been shaky in pass protection this year. The Ravens will exploit rookie center Bryan Stork and guards Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell with A-gap blitzing as well as the presence of Haloti Ngata, Pernell McPhee, and Timmy Jernigan in passing situations. Inside pressure will force Brady backward and give Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil time to reach him off the edges.

3. Steve Smith will have a quiet game, but Torrey Smith will catch a touchdown and fetch a key pass interference call. Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis is expected to match up against Steve Smith, which will spell trouble for the veteran wideout as Revis will match the 35-year-old’s physicality with press coverage. This will leave the 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner against Torrey Smith in a matchup that could determine the outcome of the game. The Maryland product will be challenged by Browner’s physicality, but the former Seattle defensive back is prone to penalties, drawing 15 flags in nine games in the regular season. The speedy fourth-year wideout draws pass interference calls as well as anyone and will fetch a big one inside the red zone in addition to catching a first-half touchdown.

4. Brady will pass for more yards, but Flacco will throw more touchdown passes. The Patriots will try to establish the run with their extensive collection of running backs, but they won’t find much room against the league’s fourth-ranked run defense, meaning the ball will be in their franchise quarterback’s hands all day. Brady will make amends for his 56.8 passer rating in his three previous playoff games against the Ravens, but Baltimore will clamp down inside the red zone. In contrast, the Ravens will find enough running room to keep Justin Forsett involved, and Flacco will have another efficient game like he did in Pittsburgh with 220 yards and two touchdowns to put his team in position to grab a victory in the fourth quarter.

5. Justin Tucker will kick the game-winning field goal to give the Ravens a 24-23 win. New England was the better team this season, but Baltimore has history on its side and — more importantly – the right tools to match up with the Patriots. If the Ravens are able to pressure Brady inside and out, it will make up for potential problems in the secondary and allow the Baltimore offense to keep up as it deals with an improved Patriots defense. This game could go either way, but it’s getting to the point where you just can’t pick against Flacco in the playoffs until someone finally cools him off. The Ravens won’t be scared playing in familiar Foxborough, and they’ll find a way to win there once again in January.

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