With yesterday’s news that the Ravens were going to release (or trade) fullback Vonta Leach, many have been searching for answers as to why the Ravens front office feels they must release him.
The news has led many to wonder if there is another move coming and many are aiming high with thoughts of the Ravens acquiring one of the Giant’s disgruntled wide receivers, Hakeem Nicks or Victor Cruz.
However, the reality is that the Ravens decision to part ways with Leach is likely rooted in two more simple – and certainly, less exciting – goals.
First, as the Ravens did with Anquan Boldin, the Ravens clearly are now taking the approach – especially with their older players – that your pay must reflect your value to the team and your market value league-wide. Simply put – as was the case with Boldin and his $6M base salary – a fullback, even one as good as Leach, is not worth $3M in today’s NFL.
Call it “moneyball” for the NFL, if you will, but Ravens’ owner, Steve Bisciotti, clearly voiced his version of “NFL moneyball” when he explained that the Ravens would look for guys who could provide 80% of the level of play for 20% of the cost. With Leach playing less than 50% of the offensive snaps last year – and possibly seeing even less in the offense being implemented by new offensive coordinator, Jim Caldwell – it’s very easy to understand how Leach doesn’t exactly fit into Bisciotti’s mantra.
Now, don’t misunderstand, the Ravens wouldn’t have held onto Leach this long if they didn’t want to try and work something out. Their first preference would have been for Leach to accept a paycut that would have brought his Cap number more in line with their perceived value for him and more in line with the amount of Cap space that they feel they can allocate for him.
Which brings us to the second factor – the Salary Cap. While the first issue is about cash money – and the Ravens have shown that they really don’t mind spending money – the second issue is about the present Salary Cap status of the Ravens.
Pending Leach’s release, the Ravens are presently $3,604,823 under the Salary Cap. Once Leach is released, that number will go up to $6,199,823. There is $3M in savings from Leach’s release, but under the Rule of 51 the cost of his replacement player – $405K – is added back in. So, the net savings from Leach’s release is $2.595M.
It is this $6M-plus in Cap space (which will be down to $5,374,459 under after Matt Elam finally signs his rookie deal) that has many fans and observers thinking big,
However, the reality is that, while maybe a little more than necessary, that amount is around the amount of Cap space that most teams would prefer to carry into the season to cover for the inevitable injuries that will likely occur. Certainly, the Ravens would have liked to have a little less space than that and still had Leach, but it appears that they could not find a middle ground on an agreeable number to keep Leach in purple.
Remember, at this time of the year, only the top 51 Cap numbers (and all bonus prorations and all dead money) count against the Cap – so, the present Cap space is based on only those 51 players. However, as of week 1 of the season, all players on the 53-man roster, players on the practice squad and players on IR will count against the Cap.
Consequently, the Ravens will lose at least $810K for the 2 players necessary to fill out the 53-man roster and another $816K will be needed for the team’s 8 practice squad players. Those numbers alone – barring any other roster moves, and understanding that the amount of available Cap space at that time may be more because players who are presently outside the top 51 may make the team over more expensive players presently counting amongst the top 51 – will bring that projected Cap space down to just under $3.75M.
Then, there will be the inevitable injuries that the club needs to be prepared for. All players on IR still count against the Cap – as do the players signed to replace them. As such, the team could need several million dollars for those players.
With Leach still at his $3M base salary, that would leave the team precariously close to the Cap limit, so something – be it with Leach or someone else – was going to have to happen.
So, much like the move to reduce OT Bryant McKinnie’s base salary last September, this attempt to reduce Leach’s base salary is very much rooted in the need to carry enough Salary Cap space into the season to deal with what may come down the pike.
Again, though, without Leach, they probably do have a little more excess than they want or need, so it is possible they could make a minor signing or two – a veteran free agent fullback could most certainly be in the offing.
The one silver lining to all of this, though, is that if the team doesn’t end up having a bunch of injuries resulting in excess Cap space at the end of the season, they will be very happy to carry that over into 2014, a season when yet again they will face another serious Salary Cap crunch.