Stay or leave: Forecasting the Ravens’ 2016 class of free agents

March 03, 2016 | Luke Jones

Free agency will begin at 4 p.m. Wednesday, so it’s time to predict who remains and who departs among the Ravens’ nine unrestricted free agents, four restricted free agents, and 13 exclusive-rights free agents.

The 2016 salary cap will increase to a record-high $155.27 million, and the Ravens currently have roughly $8.5 million in cap space before the reported agreement with linebacker Albert McClellan and signing any of their restricted free agents and exclusive-rights players. Needless to say, the organization still has some work to do to clear room over the next several days after the contract extension for franchise quarterback Joe Flacco’s netted only an additional $6 million in cap savings for 2016.

The free-agent signing period officially begins on March 9, but the NFL allows teams to enter into negotiations — without officially signing contracts — with the certified agents of players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents at noon on Monday, meaning rumors and speculation will pick up before the start of the signing period.

It’s time to go on the record predicting which Ravens will stay and which ones will leave in the coming weeks. To see how I fared last year, check out my 2015 free-agent forecast HERE.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

LB Chris Carter: LEAVES
Skinny: The former Steeler and Bengal appeared in two games for the Ravens late in 2015, but it’s hard to imagine he’d be any kind of a priority beyond a depth signing later in the offseason.

LS Morgan Cox: STAYS
Skinny: The 2015 Pro Bowl selection remains extremely reliable and should be retained as long as his salary demands are in line with what he’s made in recent seasons.

QB Jimmy Clausen: LEAVES
Skinny: Considering Ryan Mallett’s track record and Flacco’s uncertain status, retaining Clausen sounds like a good idea, but the Notre Dame product will likely seek a better opportunity elsewhere.

WR Chris Givens: LEAVES
Skinny: The former fourth-round pick was acquired in exchange for a 2017 seventh-round choice, but Givens did little (19 catches and one touchdown) with extensive chances (six starts in 12 games).

G/T Kelechi Osemele: LEAVES
Skinny: 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).

TE Allen Reisner: LEAVES
Skinny: The veteran suffered a broken ankle in the preseason and was never going to make the 53-man roster, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see him re-signed to the offseason roster if healthy.

QB Matt Schaub: LEAVES
Skinny: The writing was on the wall for the former Houston Texan at the end of the season, and it will be interesting to see if another team wants him as a veteran backup.

LB Courtney Upshaw: LEAVES
Skinny: Teams needing to be frugal with cap space just can’t afford to keep edge-setting linebackers with little pass-rushing ability, but Upshaw should land a decent contract elsewhere.

CB Shareece Wright: STAYS
Skinny: The free-agent market can be a volatile place for veteran cornerbacks, but the Ravens need a starter opposite Jimmy Smith and Wright looks like a reasonable stopgap.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Restricted free agents have three accrued seasons in the league. The Ravens can offer a first-round tender ($3.653 million based on a $155.27 million cap), second-round tender ($2.553 million), or original-round tender ($1.671 million) to any of these players, giving them the right to match any offer sheet from an opposing team or to receive that team’s draft pick that matches the designation. The low tender awards a draft pick equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted. If the player originally went undrafted, it simply provides the team the right to match an offer sheet but awards no compensation should the player sign elsewhere.

WR Kamar Aiken: STAYS (second-round tender)
Skinny: Considering how underwhelming the group of free-agent wide receivers is, the Ravens are better off paying a little more to prevent other teams from going after their young possession receiver.

WR Marlon Brown: LEAVES
Skinny: His successful rookie season feels like a long time ago, and a fresh start elsewhere would be the best thing for the disappointing 6-foot-5 receiver at this point in his career.

TE Chase Ford: LEAVES
Skinny: Ford was inactive for one game before a shoulder injury landed him on injured reserve, so there’s no reason to think he will be a priority to retain.

S Brynden Trawick: STAYS (cheaper two-year deal)
Skinny: The low tender is too expensive for the reserve safety, but the Ravens value their special-teams players and Trawick can likely be re-signed to an inexpensive contract.

EXCLUSIVE-RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These players have two or fewer accrued seasons in the league and own no negotiating rights. In order for the Ravens to retain the rights to these players, they must tender contracts at the league minimum based on their service time in the NFL. Though it’s not a certainty, the Ravens generally tender all exclusive-rights players since their contracts are not guaranteed for the 2016 season.

WR Daniel Brown: STAYS
Skinny: The James Madison product flashes potential with a 6-foot-5 frame, but he’ll need a strong training camp to crack the 53-man roster.

WR Jeremy Butler: STAYS
Skinny: Butler was quite productive in a lost season for the Ravens, catching 31 passes for 363 yards, and is on the radar to make the 2016 roster as a reserve receiver and special-teams player.

WR Kaelin Clay: STAYS
Skinny: His 82-yard punt return for a touchdown in Cleveland was a highlight, and the Utah product is a strong candidate to serve as the Ravens’ return specialist in 2016.

OL Ryan Jensen: STAYS
Skinny: The 2013 sixth-round pick held his own in six starts last season and is projected to compete with John Urschel for the starting left guard job in training camp.

RB Terrence Magee: STAYS
Skinny: Given the names ahead of him on the depth chart and the Ravens’ interest in Trent Richardson, Magee figures to be a long shot to make the 53-man roster.

WR Chris Matthews: STAYS
Skinny: The Super Bowl XLIX standout caught a touchdown against Pittsburgh in Week 16 and will be in the mix competing for a roster spot in training camp.

CB Sheldon Price: STAYS
Skinny: Promoted to the 53-man roster in the final week of the season, the 6-foot-2 corner will compete for a reserve role in the secondary this summer.

TE Konrad Reuland: STAYS
Skinny: With Nick Boyle’s 10-game suspension and Crockett Gillmore’s offseason shoulder surgeries, Reuland’s presence on the offseason roster is more important now.

DT Micajah Reynolds: STAYS
Skinny: The Michigan State product spent the entire season on IR and will have a chance to compete for a job on a crowded defensive line in the spring and summer.

CB Jumal Rolle: STAYS
Skinny: Injuries in Week 15 forced Rolle into action and he appeared to hold his own, making him a name to watch during training camp.

OT De’Ondre Wesley: STAYS
Skinny: With the uncertainty at left tackle and right tackle Rick Wagner becoming a free agent after 2016, Wesley developing into a useful player would be very beneficial to the offensive line.

RB Terrance West: STAYS
Skinny: No one doubts the Towson product’s ability, but West will need to continue to prove himself through his commitment to getting better while competing for a roster spot.

DB Jermaine Whitehead: STAYS
Skinny: Signed off San Francisco’s practice squad in late December, the Auburn product is just another name to throw into the secondary mix.