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On Monday afternoon, Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome disclosed that the Ravens would place the franchise tag on Terrell Suggs if an agreement on a new contract was not reached by February 21st. Ideally, the team hopes to sign Suggs to a long term contract extension without having to use the franchise tag, but while not unexpected, this was the first official pronouncement from the team that they were willing to retain Suggs by using the tag. It does, however, raise the question of how exactly the team is going to create enough Cap space to accommodate the $8.065M franchise tender?
As of February 28th at midnight, the team must be under the $116M Salary Cap. Several media reports of late December had the team with $5M in available Cap space for 2008. Since then, theyâ€™ve signed 4 players reducing that reported Cap space to $3.52M with 46 players under contract.(1)
Hopefully, the amount of available Cap space will be increased prior to the opening of free agency when teams receive credits for incentives that were not earned. In fact, as they did in late 2006 with Matt Katula, the team likely wrote some phony incentives into a contract or two late last season enabling them to move some of last yearâ€™s unused Cap space into this year. Any amounts credited back to the team would increase the teamâ€™s available cap space.
If the team ends up needing to use the franchise tag, they will need to create enough Cap space to accommodate the franchise tender, the tenders for their 3 RFAs (Jason Brown, Justin Green and Matt Katula) and the tender for one of their EFA, since only the top 51 cap numbers will count at this time of the NFL calendar year. The EFA tenders for their other EFAs also have to be made by midnight on February 28th, but will not count against the Cap at this time since they would fall below the 51st highest salaries.
The tender for Jason Brown, alone, will eat up $2.017M of the available Cap space assuming he gets the 1st round tender (otherwise, the lesser tenders only guaranty 2nd or 4th rounder compensation for him). The teamâ€™s other RFAs, Matt Katula and Justin Green â€“ assuming both are tendered â€“ will each get the low tender of $927K (2). Those tenders along with the tender for one of the EFAs at $445K and the Franchise tag from Suggs would put the Ravens at $8.861 over the Cap. (3)
So, they are going to need to find a way to get create the necessary Cap space.
The first step appears to already have been taken. Todd Heap has restructured his contract to help create $1.7M in additional Cap space.
During Mondayâ€™s interview, Ozzie stated that the team would not need to release anyone in order to Franchise Suggs and that the necessary Cap space would come through restructures. (4) While Ozzie may be talking about initially not needing Cap space via releases, the team will likely need to cut someone in June in order to create additional Cap space to sign their draft picks.
Short of releasing or extending Ray Lewis, the bulk of the necessary Cap space would have to come from either Jon Ogden or Chris McAlister, however, in both instances, the team will be creating Cap space for 2008 by pushing off Cap charges into the future.
If Jon Ogden retires and the team decides to handle his retirement as a pre-June 1 transaction, then the team would save $2.189M in Cap space. However, on its own, that is not going to be enough to franchise Suggs. Similarly, a post-June 1 release isnâ€™t of much help now either, since the Cap relief would not be realized until after June 1, which is of no help in getting Suggs tagged next week.
But, with Ogden, there may be another option.
Last season, the Ravens exercised a clause in his contract that allowed the team to reduce his base salary to the veteran minimum in favor of bonuses that would be attained at later points in the offseason. By doing so, the Ravens received immediate Cap relief.
If a similar clause does exist this year, then the team could create $6.685M by exercising the option (present base salary of $7.515M less new base salary of $830K). That would pretty much give the team enough Cap space to handle the Franchise tender for Suggs. If Ogden then retired, the team would likely have him file his retirement papers after June 1, so that the team would receive some additional Cap space after June 1 (but this would cost the team $5.326M in dead money against the 2009 Cap).
If possible, this is probably the likely route the Front Office will take. It allows them to treat Ogden like a June 1 release/retirement, but allows them to get most of the June 1 Cap relief immediately, which they must have in order to franchise Suggs.
If the team decides against going that route with Ogden, the only other way to create a sizeable amount of Cap space is to do a simple restructure (base salary to bonus) with Chris McAlister. Doing so would create around $4.847M in cap space.
Beyond that, Jarrett Johnson and Kelly Gregg are also candidates for restructures. A simple restructure for Johnson would create $1.046M in additional Cap space. Doing a simple restructure with Kelly Gregg would create another $1.816M in cap space. This could be a little dicey though, given that Gregg is 31 years old. Generally, it is not wise to restructure a contract for a player over the age of 30. For that reason, beyond those already listed, there really are no other good candidates for restructuring because of the ages of the players (McNair, Rolle, Mason, Pryce) since restructuring contracts can cause the team problems in the future when the player retires or is released.
There is a word of caution in all of this: It is important to realize that if the team is forced to do some of the above restructures and/or release a player(s) after June 1, they are essentially borrowing from future Caps to create Cap space for this year. That is future Cap space that they will never get back (or at least, not without again borrowing from future years) and it is future Cap space that would otherwise be very helpful to the team as the roster begins to turn over a bit over the next couple of years.
Most of these maneuvers would not be necessary if the team and Suggs can come to terms on a new contract. Whether that is possible remains to be seen given that they have been talking for close to 9 months now. It will certainly take a sizeable amount of guaranteed money to get it done â€“ say in the $20-30M range â€“ but it will still be far more Cap-friendly than having to use the Franchise Tag. Suggsâ€™ 2008 Cap number on a new deal would likely be in the $3-5M range instead of an $8M+ hit for the Franchise tag. It would mean that they would not need to restructure as many deals or use June 1 releases to create Cap space, thereby leaving their future Cap situation in better shape
1 Number compiled by Pro Football 24 x 7 have the Ravens presently at $4.707M.
2 Green is an interesting case. The RFA tender of close to $1M is quite a lot for a back-up Fullback. With the Cap being so tight and if additional Cap space is needed to tender Suggs with the Franchise Tag, the team could save around $500K by not tendering Green (because of the Rule of 51, if Green is not tendered, he will be replaced by a player counting either $445K or $370K against the Cap.) If Green isnâ€™t tendered, they would likely look to find a FB late in the draft to replace him.
3 The team will also need some additional Cap space to sign a couple of other veteran Free Agents and to sign their draft picks in July, but may rely on the release of a player or two at a later time to create the necessary Cap space.
4 Itâ€™s kind of hard to believe that the team would not release Mike Anderson who â€“ for whatever reasons â€“ has done little in his time here. At this point, releasing Anderson would create $1.3M in Cap space, which would be helpful. Perhaps, they will still release him at some point, just not initially, or maybe they will release him after June 1 to spread some ($500K) of the dead money into 2009. It would be a stretch to think that they will find a role for him now after 2 years of nothing.