The start of free agency is still two months away, but the Ravens face their most critical offseason in recent memory trying to rebound from the first losing season of the John Harbaugh era.
As is often the case, salary cap space will be a great concern as the Ravens entered the winter with an estimated 2016 commitment of just under $146 million to 47 players (not including free agents), according to Spotrac.com. The 2016 salary cap has not yet been set, but it is projected to rise from $143.28 million in 2015 to between $150 million and $153.4 million, which leaves general manager Ozzie Newsome with very tough maneuvering ahead.
Of course, the Ravens typically choose to renegotiate or terminate several veteran contracts with the reworking of quarterback Joe Flacco’s contract — and $28.55 million cap figure for 2016 — topping the list of offseason priorities. Simply put, restructuring Flacco’s deal is a must if the Ravens have any visions of revamping their roster or merely keeping together the current one.
Other veterans such as cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Kyle Arrington, tight end Dennis Pitta, and defensive end Chris Canty don’t all necessarily carry lucrative cap numbers but could be released to create additional savings for the 2016 season.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
The Ravens will have the opportunity to retain any of the following unrestricted free agents before they can officially sign with any other team beginning on March 9 at 4:00 p.m.
LB Chris Carter – Signed in late December, Carter provided some special-teams play and depth at outside linebacker, but you wouldn’t expect his services to be in high demand.
LS Morgan Cox – The veteran has been such a model of consistency working with punter Sam Koch and kicker Justin Tucker that you’d be very surprised to see the Ravens let him go.
QB Jimmy Clausen – Though overshadowed by what Ryan Mallett did in the win over Pittsburgh, Clausen wouldn’t be a bad option on a one-year deal to compete for the backup job behind Flacco.
WR Chris Givens – The speedy receiver had every opportunity to establish himself as a viable option, but he caught just 19 passes in 12 games (six starts) after being acquired from St. Louis.
LB Albert McClellan – Regarded by some as the best player on Jerry Rosburg’s special-teams units, the Ravens would love to bring him back at a reasonable rate ($1 million base salary in 2015).
OL Kelechi Osemele – Considered all but gone when Marshal Yanda was extended, Osemele is firmly back on the Ravens’ radar as a left tackle after playing well there, but can they afford him?
TE Allen Reisner – The veteran spent the year on injured reserve after breaking his ankle in the preseason and probably wouldn’t figure to be in the team’s plans moving forward.
QB Matt Schaub – Injured in just his second start after Flacco was lost for the year, the 34-year-old watched Clausen and Mallett start the final four games and isn’t expected to be back.
K Justin Tucker – Though he struggled from beyond 50 yards this year, the 2013 Pro Bowl selection is just too good to let go and will be re-signed or given the reasonable franchise tag for kickers.
LB Courtney Upshaw – The Terrell Suggs injury pushed Upshaw into an every-down role, but he has limited pass-rush ability and will likely want to test his value on the open market.
CB Shareece Wright – Shaking off an abysmal Ravens debut against San Francisco, Wright played at a solid level and could be retained as the organization looks to draft another cornerback.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
The following players have accrued three years of service and have expiring contracts. The Ravens can tender each with a restricted free agent offer, but other teams may then sign that player to a superior offer sheet. If that occurs, Baltimore has seven days to match the offer and keep the aforementioned player. If the Ravens choose not to match, they would receive compensation based on which tender was initially offered to that player.
There are three different tenders — the values won’t be set until the 2016 salary cap is determined — that can be made: a first-round tender ($3.354 million in 2015) would award the competing team’s first-round selection, a second-round tender ($2.356 million in 2015) would fetch the competing team’s second-round pick, and a low tender ($1.542 million in 2015) would bring the competing team’s draft choice equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted. 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 competing figure and would not receive any compensation if they elected not to.
The original round in which each player was drafted is noted in parentheses:
WR Kamar Aiken (undrafted) – With questions about the health of Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman, Aiken will likely receive a second-round tender after a season of just under 1,000 yards.
WR Marlon Brown (undrafted) – A back injury as well as his well-documented regression make it very possible that Brown has played his last snap in Baltimore despite a productive 2013 rookie year.
TE Chase Ford (undrafted) – A shoulder injury landed Ford on IR less than two weeks after he was signed, and he never appeared in a game for the Ravens.
TE Konrad Reuland (undrafted) – The former practice-squad member saw limited live-game action late, but he could be re-signed to a minimum deal to remain with the team in the offseason.
S Brynden Trawick (undrafted) – One of the Ravens’ better special-teams players over the last three years, Trawick could receive a cheaper one- or two-year deal to stay put.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
These players have less than three years of accrued service and can 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. Typically, the Ravens tender all exclusive-rights free agents with the thought that there’s nothing assured beyond the opportunity to compete for a spot. Exclusive-rights tenders are non-guaranteed, meaning a player can be cut at any point without consequence to the salary cap.
WR Daniel Brown
WR Jeremy Butler
WR Kaelin Clay
OL Ryan Jensen
RB Terrence Magee
WR Chris Matthews
CB Sheldon Price
CB Jumal Rolle
DT Micajah Reynolds
OT De’Ondre Wesley
RB Terrance West
CB Jermaine Whitehead