Late last season, the Ravens were forced to place LB Jameel McClain on the Injured Reserve (IR) list due to a serious neck/spinal injury. This ended an up and down season for McClain, who was in the first year of a new 3-year contract signed last March.
McClain had earned that contract with a relatively solid 2011 campaign during which he appeared to emerge as the next in line of solid sidekicks for future Hall of Famer, Ray Lewis. Instead, 2012 saw his play slip and his spot largely taken over by fellow former undrafted free agent, Dannell Ellerbe.
Despite the apparent severity of the injury, on the surface the Ravens expected McClain to recover and be ready to play by Training Camp. Instead, McClain has yet to be cleared and is presently on the team’s Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.
At this point, there are no indications that the Ravens do not see McClain as being part of their 2013 squad. In fact, last week’s release of the team’s initial training camp Depth Chart had McClain listed as one of the starting Inside Linebackers.
But, while the Ravens do still have some time to let this matter play out before having to make any decisions about McClain’s future, the end of August may well bring the need to make some difficult decisions regarding McClain’s fate.
Presently, McClain is on the “Active” PUP list, which means that the team can activate him at any time and he can begin practicing. If they reach the point that they know that McClain is not going to be ready for the start of the season, or once the final cut down date arrives, McClain can be transferred to the “Reserve” PUP list, which would remove him from the team’s active roster. This would force McClain to sit out at least the first 6 weeks of the season. At any point after those 6 weeks (but before week 11 of the season), McClain can begin practicing and from that point on, the team has 21 days to either activate him to the 53-man roster or place him on IR, thus ending his season.
For the moment, it appears that the Ravens are comfortable letting that scenario play out. However there is another option that they may be forced to consider if McClain is not cleared for contact and continues to be unable to pass his physical.
They can release him.
Normally, an injured player can not be released, but when the injury occurred in a prior season, and the player is still unable to pass his team physical in the following league year, the player can be released with a “failed physical” designation, thereby ending the team’s obligation to the player (recall, Domonique Foxworth’s release in March of 2012).
While this would seem to be a harsh result, as long as the player is unable to pass his physical, this option is available to the team; however, it must be done by the final cutdown date. Otherwise, he will be deemed to have passed his physical (even if he is still not healthy enough to play) and can not be released – at least, not without triggering an injury grievance from McClain and the NFLPA.
In such a scenario the Ravens would be relieved of paying McClain 2013 and 2014 base salaries, but the player is entitled to receive up to $1M each year under the Injury Protection Benefit, provided for by the league’s CBA. This amount, however, does not presently count against the team’s Cap (starting in 2016, any Injury Protection Benefit paid will begin to start counting against that year’s Cap).
The team does, however, still have to deal with the resulting dead money caused by the release. In McClain’s case, since it is now passed June 1st, the team would realize a Cap savings of $3M, but the team would have to carry $1.2M in dead money against both the 2013 and 2014 Caps. With the team expected to be very tight against the Cap once the 2013 campaign begins, this $3M could go a long way toward providing the team with a fair amount of Salary Cap cushion heading into the season.
The team could also decide to reach an injury settlement with McClain, thereby giving him a part of his $3M base salary and maintaining a good relationship with McClain, in the hope of possibly re-signing him in the future once (if) he has recovered.
At this point, the team seems inclined to go into the season with McClain on PUP, if necessary, but when the final Cap crunch comes, they may decide that removing McClain for the roster permanently may just be the wisest course of action, especially if his medical prognosis remains murky.