After suffering a spinal cord contusion during a Week 14 loss to the Washington Redskins, Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain was placed on Injured Reserve, thus ending his season and reducing his role to spectator during his team’s Super Bowl conquest.
Ravens’ general manager Ozzie Newsome identified their biggest area of need this offseason as the middle of their defense. Newsome already has his hands full trying to prepare for his first season without Ray Lewis anchoring the linebacking corps and needing to make a competitive offer to the team’s best performing linebacker, free-agent Dannell Ellerbe.
The combination of Ellerbe’s breakout season and an average performance from McClain prior to his injury could put his future in Baltimore in question. Last March, the Ravens resigned McClain to a three-year, $10.5 million contract. With a base salary of $3 million for this upcoming season, Newsome and the Ravens’ front office may use McClain’s injury to their advantage and attempt to save money against the salary cap.
During the “State of the Ravens” press conference, team owner Steve Bisciotti stated that he was more “apt to create space to get a few really good veterans for small amounts.” Even though linebackers Albert McClellan and Josh Bynes aren’t considered veterans, the same concept could be applied with younger and less expensive players, and comparing cost versus performance. The argument could be made that, based on McClain’s performance last season, there wouldn’t be much of a drop off to Bynes or McClellan.
Over the weekend, the Baltimore Sun reported that McClain is still consulting with doctors about his spinal cord contusion but the collective outlook is “positive”. While it appears McClain will be able to participate next season, the Ravens can use his injury to their advantage if they feel his performance doesn’t justify his $3 million base salary for 2013.
Due to his injury happening last season, McClain will not be offered an injury settlement; however, McClain is currently unable to pass a physical and the Ravens could release him with a “failed physical” designation. This same designation was recently applied to players like Johnny Knox, Ahmad Bradshaw and Nick Barnett.
If released with the “failed physical” designation, McClain would not be entitled to his base salary, but under Article 45 of the CBA, he will still be able to receive money from the league’s “Injury Protection” benefit. The benefit would act as a severance for McClain who would receive $1.05 million and $525,000 in 2014 if he was still unable to play. This may be a more attractive option to consider as the benefit won’t count against the Ravens’ salary cap (though, due to a rule change, that would not be the case starting in 2016.)
Releasing McClain does create $2.4 million in dead money, but the cash-strapped Ravens will save an additional $1.8 million this season during a time they’re seemingly going to be limited having to pay quarterback Joe Flacco top-tier money.
Resigning Flacco is obviously the team’s top priority but the next item on the list should be resigning Ellerbe. Having Ellerbe in place, the Ravens may decide to part with McClain as they’ll be able to retain a player knowledgeable with the current defense. Even though dead money will be created and the savings will be less than $2 million in 2013, the biggest gain will come in 2014, where the Ravens would likely not want to pay McClain if he produced in 2013 as he did a year prior.
Given that the franchise will sign the biggest check to a player in their history, all possibilities to save money must be – and will be – evaluated. McClain could very well fall victim to some creative bookkeeping at the hands of the Ravens front office.
Brian McFarland contributed to this article.