Like the spring every offseason spawns a new season and along with that newness comes change. NFL rosters generally churn and burn at the rate of 25% from one NFL calendar year to the next. Teams look to get younger and create value on their rosters in order to manage the cap effectively. As Steve Bisciotti once told us, “If I can get an Ed Dickson who performs at 80% of a Todd Heap but costs a fraction of what Heap does, I have to make that move.”
You can expect more of this heading into the 2012 season.
24×7’s cap expert Brian McFarland provides an excellent perspective on the Ravens current salary cap here and the picture he paints should provide clues to some roster augmentation. Here’s my take on some of the likely moves…
Unless Lee Evans takes a significant haircut on the pay scale, he’s as good as gone. His Super Bowl denying dropped pass in the AFC Championship Game aside, a No. 3 WR who Cam Cameron put on the field for all of 8 snaps in the Divisional Playoff Game against the Texans, cannot justify a mid 7 figure cap number. An intriguing possibility to replace Evans should the Ravens decide to keep another veteran presence in their corps of receivers is Reggie Wayne who like his battery mate Peyton Manning is expected to play somewhere other than Indianapolis in 2012. Wayne will be 33 when he takes the field next season but he may be willing to accept an incentive laden deal with the Ravens in exchange for the opportunity to play with his college roommate Ed Reed.
Word is Matt Birk’s Reisterstown home is on the market and the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year is leaning heavily towards retirement. Birk faded a bit late in the season and the Ravens could turn towards 5-time Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode for another season or two until they can groom a young, longer-term solution at center.
Staying with the offensive line, Ben Grubbs’ perceived value with the Ravens spiked this season. When he didn’t play the overall performance of the line dropped measurably and consequently he’s likely to price himself out of a job in Baltimore. Look for the Ravens to find a heady, tough Yanda-like player in the draft’s middle rounds.
Speaking of Yanda, it remains a bit of a head scratcher why he opted to play in the Pro Bowl given his injuries down the stretch. Maybe his wife bought a new grass skirt she was jonesing to sport at a Hawaiian luau. But then again, maybe Yanda realized that the physicality of the Pro Bowl these days is on par with that of pushing a shopping cart down aisle 6 at Mars Supermarkets.
There is little to no doubt in my mind that CB Domonique Foxworth is as good as gone unless of course he agrees to a HUGE cut in pay. Foxworth at the moment is probably the sixth best corner on the roster who will command a $5.6M salary in 2012 and a whopping $8.6M number against the cap. His signing may go down as one of the worst in club history.
Ahead of Foxworth on the depth chart is another veteran who is likely to feel the cutting blade of the salary cap – Chris Carr. Carr, traditionally a late starter, isn’t the playmaker that the developing young and inexpensive Danny Gorrer is. The No. 25 jersey will probably be emblazoned with a new name across the back in 2012 for the Ravens.
Brendon Ayanbadejo will be 36 on Opening Day 2012 and if he continues his career, it won’t be in Baltimore. If he does come back it will be a daunting statement on the quality of depth at inside linebacker. And the truth be told, he really wasn’t a very productive special teams player in 2011 – his forte.
Ozzie Newsome found outstanding value in the free agent signings of Bernard Pollard and Vonta Leach. Pollard who arrived with a reputation as a thumper with limited cover skills was actually and upgrade to the departed Dawan Landry in both areas at less than half the cost. Leach is the prototypical fullback who embraces the role and undoubtedly fits the profile of a Raven. His predecessor Le’Ron McClain, who always found the “me” in team, did not!
Word is Haloti Ngata has shared with one source close to 24×7 that he was NOT injured late in the season contrary to the court of popular opinion. That has to be somewhat concerning to the Ravens since his production fell markedly after the season’s ¾ pole. Ngata worked hard prior to the 2011 season and reported in outstanding shape – lighter and quicker than in past seasons. And those efforts were rewarded early on. But the team’s strength and conditioning coaches will need to take a long look at Ngata’s training regimen to determine if it contributed to the All Pro’s “fade route” late in the season.
Look for the Ravens to bring in serious competition for Billy Cundiff in training camp. While the team outwardly continues to express confidence in the 2011 Pro Bowler they will need to keep the kicker squarely in the crosshairs of special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg’s microscope. Will that miss in the AFCC game haunt Cundiff? Did his injury genuinely affect performance in 2011 on accuracy and kickoff depth? Was his 2010 season a fluke? Having a quality alternative to turn to if a mental meltdown is in Cundiff’s future will be critical given the club’s lofty aspirations.
The new contracts of Joe Flacco and Ray Rice won’t and shouldn’t come easy – easy would suggest that the Ravens overpaid.
This past November when Steve Bisciotti joined us on the Ravens Rap we asked the Ravens owner if it would take $40M guaranteed to sign Joe Flacco to an extension. Bisciotti said confidently that it won’t take that much.
During the State of the Ravens season ending presser, when questioned about Joe Flacco, Ozzie Newsome said that his measuring stick for Joe is wins. “Joe is a winner.” Surely Flacco’s agent Joe Linta was smiling when he heard that. Clearly his win-loss record will be Flacco’s lever in the negotiations.
Something to keep in mind…back in 2009 Eli Manning signed a new deal that included $35 million in guarantees. At the time Manning had one Super Bowl ring. We’ll see if inflation and those wins gets Flacco to that level. My guess is $35M is Flacco’s market rate.
As for Ray Rice, that deal might be a bit trickier. It’s difficult to give a back a big contract. Their career longevity just isn’t there and they are susceptible to career threatening/shortening injuries more so than others given their workload/touches. Plus a look around the league suggests that with the right offense and the right offensive line, value can be found at the position.
Not one of the league’s Top 6 backs is a first round pick nor do any of them have the whopping contracts of Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson. Three of the 6 are second round picks (Rice, LeSean McCoy and Maurice Jones-Drew), one is a third round pick (Frank Gore), one a fifth (Michael Turner) and the last an undrafted free agent (Arian Foster).
Rice’s representatives will point to the former Rutgers’ star’s productivity and vitality in the Ravens offense while the team’s negotiators will reference the above and then some. At the end of the day the Ravens will likely get it done and in this writer’s opinion they will overpay. Three years from now when the wear and tear grinds down on Rice’s body they’ll have learned their lesson despite one being right under their collective nose – Willis McGahee’s old contract.
Finally the Ravens have an exciting albeit challenging menu of opponents for the 2012 season. They will host both participants in Super Bowl XLVI along with media darling Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos. You can check the entire list of 2012 opponents here.