The start of free agency is more than two months away, but the Ravens face a number of critical decisions in their efforts to bounce back from missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2007 season.
As it is most seasons, salary cap space will be a concern as the Ravens entered the offseason with 37 players under contract for an estimated cap commitment of roughly $112 million, according to Spotrac.com. The 2014 salary cap has not been officially set, but most are projecting a limit of $126.3 million for the new season.
Of course, the Ravens could elect to terminate or renegotiate several veteran contracts when considering that a staggering $70.9 million in cap space is devoted to defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, quarterback Joe Flacco, linebacker Terrell Suggs, cornerback Lardarius Webb, running back Ray Rice, and right guard Marshal Yanda. Of those six, Suggs would appear to be the only player in serious danger of being released — he is owed a $7.8 million base salary in the final year of his contract — as the termination of any of the other five contracts would bring large quantities of dead money on the cap and little to no net savings.
Other veterans such as fullback Vonta Leach, linebacker Jameel McClain, and punter Sam Koch don’t carry lucrative cap numbers but could be released to create moderate savings in 2014.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
The Ravens will have the opportunity to re-sign any of the following 14 unrestricted free agents before they are free to sign with any other team beginning on March 11 at 4:00 p.m. Each player’s 2013 base salary is noted in parentheses and a brief thought is included:
TE Dallas Clark ($940,000) – The 34-year-old didn’t see one snap after Dennis Pitta’s return and is more likely to retire than to have any chance to return to the Ravens in 2014.
DT Terrence Cody ($630,000) – It’s clear the 2010 second-round pick never panned out as a starter and is unlikely to return next year.
TE Ed Dickson ($1.323 million) – Pitta’s hip injury was a big opportunity for Dickson to prove his worth as a starting-caliber NFL tight end and he was unable to do it, making it likely both sides will move on.
CB Corey Graham ($2.05 million) – Coach John Harbaugh expressed a strong desire to keep Graham earlier this week, but you wonder if other teams will come calling with an opportunity to start and more money.
DT Arthur Jones ($2.023 million) – Jones blossomed into arguably the Ravens’ most complete defensive lineman in 2013, but his strong play will likely make his price tag too high for the Ravens.
WR Jacoby Jones ($3 million plus $1 million roster bonus) – Jones showed improved ability as an intermediate receiver late in the season, but he may prove too costly with so many other needs on both sides of the ball.
S James Ihedigbo ($715,000) – With 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam better suited for strong safety, the Ravens need to allocate resources for a free safety with better coverage skills and Ihedigbo doesn’t really fit that mold.
S Jeromy Miles ($1.323 million) – Miles is a strong special-teams player and the Ravens would likely be interested in bringing him back at a cheaper rate.
OT Eugene Monroe ($3.8 million) – One of the Ravens’ top priorities this offseason, Monroe proved himself worthy of a long-term contract after being acquired from Jacksonville in early October, but how much money will he command?
OT Michael Oher ($3.785 million) – Coming off a disappointing season at right tackle, Oher is unlikely to be back with the Ravens, who will concentrate their efforts toward retaining Monroe and look for another option for the right side.
TE Dennis Pitta ($2.023 million) – It’s unlikely that Pitta is going anywhere as the Ravens will try to work out a long-term deal and could use the franchise tag ($6.8 million for tight ends in 2014) as a last resort.
RB Bernard Scott ($715,000) – With Rice’s future as a feature back in question and Bernard Pierce’s durability an issue, the Ravens are more likely to draft a running back in the middle-to-late rounds than to keep Scott.
LB Daryl Smith ($840,000 and $285,000 signing bonus) – The 31-year-old was a great value signing, but the status of McClain as well as the development of 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown are important factors to consider here.
WR Brandon Stokley ($940,000) – The 37-year-old has already announced his plans to retire after a 15-year NFL career that began with the Ravens in 1999.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
The following players have accrued three years of service and have expiring contracts. The Ravens must tender each with a restricted free agent offer, but other teams may then sign that player to an offer sheet. If that happens, Baltimore has seven days to match the offer and keep the aforementioned player. If the Ravens choose not to match the offer sheet, they would receive compensation based on which tender was initially offered to that player.
There are three different tenders that can be made: a first-round tender (estimated $3.02 million) would award the competing team’s first-round selection, a second-round tender ($2.12 million) would award the competing team’s second-round selection, and a low tender ($1.389 million) would award the competing team’s draft selection equal to the round in which the player was originally chosen. For example, a restricted free agent selected in the fifth round would be worth a fifth-round pick if given the low tender. If a player went undrafted originally and is given the low tender, the Ravens would simply hold the right to match the offer and would not receive any compensation if they elected not to match a competing figure.
The original round in which each player was drafted is noted in parentheses:
WR Tandon Doss (fourth) - Doss would either receive no more than the low tender or be re-signed at a lower rate and displayed some added value as a punt returner earlier in the season after Jacoby Jones injured his knee in Week 1.
LB Albert McClellan (undrafted) - McClellan fell out of the mix defensively in 2013 but continues to be a strong special-teams player, making his return at the low tender rate or at a lower salary a reasonable possibility.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
These players have less than three years of accrued service and must be tendered a contract for the league minimum based on their length of service in the league. If tendered, these players are not free to negotiate with other teams. Historically, the Ravens tender all exclusive-rights free agents with the thought that there’s essentially nothing more than an invitation to training camp provided to each.
LB Josh Bynes
LB Adrian Hamilton
LB D.J. Bryant
S Anthony Levine
S Omar Brown
S Brynden Trawick