With the Ravens up against the salary cap while they try to negotiate the long-term contract of Super Bowl MVP quarterback Joe Flacco, a number of players could find themselves cut by the team to create needed cap space.
Names like Anquan Boldin, Jacoby Jones, Vonta Leach, and other fan favorites have been floated out there, and the purple and black faithful – while still getting over their Super Bowl hangover – are getting a bit restless.
Let’s take a look at those Ravens who could find themselves on the chopping block here over the next several months as the team maneuvers to stay in compliance with the salary cap.
Try not to react too emotionally to the names on this list, Ravens fans. Trust in Ozzie and the rest of the team’s front office.
Think back to all the guys that the team let walk in the past – following the 2010 season, veterans like Derrick Mason, Willis McGahee, Todd Heap, and Kelly Gregg were all sent packing. The team went 12-4 and reached the AFC Championship Game, coming just one play away from the Super Bowl.
After 2011, Jarrett Johnson, Ben Grubbs, and Cory Redding were gone – all the Ravens did was win the Super Bowl.
With that in mind, here’s a short list of five guys – ranked from least likely to be cut to most likely – who, in my mind, the Ravens could look to let go in order to improve their salary cap situation.
5. Anquan Boldin
Cap Savings (base salary): $6 M
This one rankles Ravens fans, and understandably so. Boldin was a huge part of the team’s postseason run this year, catching as many touchdowns in the playoffs (4) as he did during the entire regular season. Boldin sees the writing on the wall, and has already come out and said that he will retire if the team cuts him, rather than go play for another team.
Earlier this year, many saw Tandon Doss as Boldin’s heir apparent. However, the former Indiana Hoosier hasn’t shown nearly enough for the team to be comfortable giving him Q’s spot to start 2013.
I’ve been saying this since about the middle of October, and I still think it gets done – the Ravens should extend Boldin’s contract for a few more years and lessen his cap number for next season in the process.
4. Sam Koch
Cap Savings: $0.7 M
This one didn’t immediately occur to me, but while discussing the topic in our new Russell Street Report offices in beautiful Perry Hall, Maryland, our Editor-in-Chief Tony Lombardi brought up Koch’s name.
Koch had a very disappointing stretch run and postseason for the Ravens. His net average was down to 34.3 in the playoffs from 40.8 in the regular season. He kicked four touchbacks in the playoffs, after putting just seven punts in the end zone during the regular season.
He shanked a punt off the side of his foot in the Super Bowl at a very inopportune time, helping the 49ers in their valiant comeback attempt.
He made up for that gaffe on the game’s final play, though, booming his kick after the safety high and far to allow the Ravens to cover it and end the game.
I don’t think Koch will be cut. He remains one of the league’s best punters, despite having a few poor games at the wrong time. He was also dealing with some rough weather conditions in a couple of those January games. In addition, because his signing bonus is prorated through 2015, the net cap savings of cutting him would be minimal.
Still, don’t be surprised to see the team bring in some competition for him this summer.
3. Jacoby Jones
Cap Savings: $4 M ($3M base + $1M roster bonus)
Another postseason hero, Jones could have easily been named Super Bowl XLVII MVP. He’s quickly become a fan favorite in Baltimore thanks to his dances and his overall jovial nature, not to mention his huge plays in Denver and New Orleans. He was named an All-Pro as a kick/punt returner.
Jones has stated that he loves Baltimore and has no plans to leave. It seems like a perfect marriage.
Unfortunately, Jacoby still doesn’t offer enough as a consistent wide receiver, and the team could decide that a guy like Deonte Thompson – who returned kicks for the first five games of 2012 – can offer nearly as much as Jones at a fraction of the price.
Again, I’m in no way advocating that the team release Jones. They’re better with him, and they would very likely NOT be the Super Bowl champs without him.
It’s just the difficult situation that the team finds itself in. Circumstances are going to dictate that tough choices be made.
Having a special teams expert as a head coach may give Jacoby another guy in his corner though. Still, the question will be “can we afford to pay our return man this much?”
2. Vonta Leach
Cap Savings: $3 M
After Todd Heap left, Ravens fans quickly found a new bruiser on the offense at whom to direct our “long E” chant fix.
However, we may need to find someone new yet again next year.
With the Ravens making Joe Flacco one of – if not THE – highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL, it will be time to truly hand Joe the keys to the offense.
Jim Caldwell let Joe be himself more than Cam Cameron ever did, and Flacco blossomed. The team will enter next season with designs on becoming a more aerial attack, and the no-huddle will be an even larger part of what they do on offense. Caldwell will likely use tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson in more two tight end sets, and could add an “H-back” type aspect.
While Leach is unquestionably the best in the NFL at his position, his position is becoming obsolete. He is one of very few true blocking fullbacks left in the NFL, and his role will be even more diminished in the Ravens offense of the future.
Leach makes too much money to justify keeping him around to be on the field for 25% of the offensive snaps.
Yes, he makes Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce better, and yes, the running game will likely suffer without him. However, the Ravens will bank on their passing game being improved enough to make up for the lost ground production.
Most teams have either a very highly-paid quarterback OR a very highly-paid running back…the Ravens have both. With Rice’s and now Flacco’s contracts, there is no room for Leach. You simply can’t have that much money tied up in your offensive backfield.
I don’t WANT Leach to go. But I think he will.
1. Matt Birk
Cap Savings: $2.05 M
Though I still expect that Birk is likely to retire, should he decide to play another year he will force the team’s hand. Knowing this will probably be enough to push him into retirement if there is even a question in the veteran center’s mind.
Why uproot your (huge) family again and move to another city after just reaching the top of the mountain for the first time in your career?
As far as the team, they seem ready to move ahead with their Delaware Blue Hen battery, with Gino Gradkowski snapping to Flacco for the foreseeable future.
Congratulations, Matt, thank you for all the hard work, and happy trails.
Remember, I’m not calling for the Ravens to cut any of these players (well, maybe Birk). But the fact is that people are going to leave – it happens every year, to every team. As I mentioned earlier, the Ravens have let some very good players walk over the past few seasons, only to come back the next year and be even more successful.
I trust Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta, Pat Moriarty, Steve Bisciotti, and the rest of the Baltimore brass to put together a competitive team for the long-term.
They’re not in the business of making the fan base happy in February and March.
They make us smile in December and January.
Which would you rather have?
Feel free to disagree vehemently in the comments.