With each daily training camp report, the legend of Justin Tucker continues to grow.
By all accounts, the rookie placekicker appears to be having a great camp and has outshined incumbent PK Billy Cundiff. While Cundiff has apparently also had a good camp, the memory of his last kick in New England will forever taint fan perception of him and does raise legitimate questions about his ability to make clutch kicks.
The Ravens’ brass is obviously less swayed by emotion, but the camp performance of Tucker likely has gotten their attention and looks to be forcing them into a decision that they didn’t expect to have to make. Earlier this afternoon Cundiff missed from 24 and 34 yards, going 2 for 4 while Tucker nailed 5 of 5.
It is likely that Cundiff’s contract has saved his job to this point because (1) no NFL team likes to admit they made a mistake by releasing a player after one year of a 5-year contract; (2) there are adverse Salary Cap implications to releasing Cundiff and (3) it’s likely that no veteran wanted to sign with the Ravens to compete with Cundiff because his contract would create an unbalanced playing field because of reasons (1) and (2).
So, with no veteran competition to speak of, it’s pretty likely that the team expected that Cundiff would be handling their kicking duties on Monday, September 10th against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Then Justin Tucker happened.
Now, the team has to seriously consider that Tucker is a better option and the final 3 preseason games will likely go a long way toward determining this battle (Note to Coach Harbaugh: It’s OK to try long field goals, even at the end of a game, during the preseason in an effort to test your kickers. And, while some fans may grumble about the offense, running on 3rd and long to set up a long FG attempt isn’t the worst thing either, especially with the 2nd and 3rd team offense).
If Tucker does beat out Cundiff (and remember that in 2010, the Ravens ended up keeping Cundiff after he outperformed the presumed favorite, Shayne Graham, even though Graham was signed to be the PK), the Ravens will be able to create $1.81M in Salary Cap space for this year. That amount represents the savings from Cundiff’s $2.2M base salary versus the $390K that Tucker would make. The team would still have to carry $600K of dead money against the Cap in 2012 and $1.8M in 2013.
But, while teams don’t usually like to carry dead money from one year to the next, there are three factors that would/should lessen that concern. First, the team is presently carrying very little dead money over into 2013. In fact, right now, the only dead money that will be carried over into 2013 is the roughly $40K of prorated bonus money from the undrafted rookies that will not make the team. In contrast, due to the releases of Willis McGahee, Kelly Gregg and others, the Ravens carried over more than $4.5M in dead money from 2011 into 2012.
The second factor that lessens the impact of releasing Cundiff is that the Ravens can carry over any unused 2012 Cap space into 2013. So, if $1.81M that is saved this year isn’t used this year, it can be carried over as to increase the team’s 2013 Cap space and would essentially be a wash with the $1.8M in dead money that was also carried over.
Of course, if the team needs that additional Cap space at some point in 2012, there would still be up to $1.8M in dead money to account for in 2013.
The last factor in favor of keeping Tucker over Cundiff, and this is a big one, is that, despite some possible Cap pain in 2013 from the dead money carry-over, Tucker will be far cheaper over the next 4 years than Cundiff. Cundiff is due $10.2M in base salary over the next 4 years and will count $12.6M against the Cap over those years. On the other hand, Tucker, as an undrafted free agent, will play those 4 years under minimum salaries ($390K, $480K, $570K, RFA in 4th year). As such, Tucker will likely cost no more than $3-4M (depending on the RFA tender in year 4) or so over the same period.
Of course, this all premises that Tucker wins the job and kicks well for 4 years – or at least, better than Cundiff would have.
So, from a Cap perspective, while Cundiff’s contract looks to be a big factor in giving him some job security, it’s really the opposite and if Tucker continues to kick well, Cundiff’s contract will not save him.