With the Super Bowl now complete, every NFL team will begin turning its sights toward the 2014 league year, which is set to begin on March 11th. As that date approaches, teams will begin making roster adjustments aimed at setting themselves up for the offseason, free agency and the draft.
As of this morning, teams are now allowed to begin releasing players and the waiver process has begun. So, while the free agent period is still 6 weeks away, the offseason business of the 2014 season has now officially begun.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the Ravens’ 2014 Free Agency and Salary Cap status:
PLAYERS UNDER CONTRACT:
The Ravens presently have the following 46 players under contract for 2014 (with Cap Numbers indicated):
QBs (3): Joe Flacco ($14.8M), Tyrod Taylor ($671K), Nick Stephens ($420K)
RBs (5): Ray Rice ($8.75M), Bernard Pierce ($709K), Vonta Leach ($2.33M), Kyle Juszczyk ($570K), Cierre Wood ($495K)
WRs (6): Torrey Smith ($1.078M), Deonte Thompson ($571K), Aaron Mellette ($507K), Marlon Brown ($497K), Kamar Aiken ($495K), Gerrard Sheppard ($420K)
TE (2): Matt Furstenburg ($420K), Nathan Overbay ($420K)
OL (9): Marshall Yanda ($8.45M), Kelechi Osemele ($913K), Jah Reid ($786K), Gino Gradkowski ($691K), AQ Shipley ($580K), Ricky Wagner ($531K), Ryan Jensen ($515K), David Mims ($495K), Reggie Stephens ($495K)
DL (7): Haloti Ngata ($16M), Chris Canty ($3.167M), Pernell McPhee ($681K), Brandon Williams ($624K), DeAngelo Tyson ($582K), Kapron Lewis-Moore ($517K), Cody Larson ($420K)
LBs (6): Terrell Suggs ($12.4M), Jameel McClain ($4.4M), Elvis Dumervil ($3.375M), Courtney Upshaw ($1.445M), Arthur Brown ($808K), John Simon ($591K)
CBs (4): Lardarius Webb ($10.5M), Jimmy Smith ($2.374M), Chykie Brown ($681K), Asa Jackson ($604K)
S (1): Matt Elam ($1.538M)
ST (3): Sam Koch ($2.8M), Justin Tucker ($570K), Morgan Cox ($855K)
These 46 players are under contract for a total Salary Cap commitment (which includes dead money from players no longer on the team) of just over $115.952M. (See 2014 Salary Cap Spreadsheet for more details)
Early reports are that the 2014 Salary Cap will be set at $126.3M, but other reports indicate that the Cap could go as high as $128-129M.
Using the $126.3M figure to be on the conservative side, the Ravens would have just under $10.348M in Cap space. But, that figure includes only the 46 players that are currently under contract for 2014.
So, between now and March 11th at 4:00 p.m., when the new league year begins and free agency begins, the Ravens have a lot of business to attend to.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS (ERFAs):
These players must be tendered contracts of the league minimum, based on the player’s length of service in the league ($570K, $495K or $420K). Once tendered, these players are fully under the team’s control and are not free to negotiate with other teams.
The Ravens have 6 players who are Exclusive Rights Free Agents (ERFAs):
S Omar Brown ($570K)
LB DJ Bryant ($420K)
LB Josh Bynes ($570K)
LB Adrian Hamilton ($495K)
S Anthony Levine ($495K)
S Brynden Trawick ($495K)
In the past, the Ravens have usually always tendered all of their ERFAs.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (RFAs):
These are players whose contracts have expired and who have 3 years of accrued service time. The team must tender the player with an RFA offer. Once tendered, another team can sign the player to a RFA offer sheet, but the Ravens then have 7 days to match that offer sheet and retain the player under the terms of that offer sheet. If the Ravens were to choose not to match the offer sheet, they would then receive compensation based on the level of RFA tender made to the player.
There are 3 RFA tenders (the 2011 CBA eliminated the “high” tender of 1st and 3rd round draft picks as compensation):
1st Round Tender: allows the team to receive compensation of a 1st round – $3.023M
2nd Round Tender: allows the team to receive compensation of 2nd round pick – $2.124M
Low Tender: allows the team to receive compensation of a draft pick equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted or the Right of First Refusal (ROFR) for an undrafted player – $1.389M
The above Tender amounts appear to be set for 2014, so long as the overall Salary Cap does not increase to over $129.15M. Under the terms of the CBA, the RFA Tender amounts increase at the same rate as the overall Salary Cap, with the minimum increase being 5%. The above totals represent that minimum 5% increase, since it appears that the Cap is not going to go up by more than 5%.
The Ravens have 2 players who are Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) – with original draft round indicated:
WR – Tandon Doss (4th)
LB – Albert McClellan (undrafted)
In the past, the Ravens usually tendered all of their RFAs, but more recently, the team has non-tendered several of their RFAs and instead re-signed them to a more cap-friendly contracts.
For the purposes of this projection, we’ll assign the low RFA tender to both Doss (4th round comp) and McClellan (ROFR – no comp), but, given that both players plummeted down the team’s depth chart as this past season progressed, it’s very possible – perhaps, even likely – that one or both could be non-tendered (and perhaps re-signed).
Keep in mind, though, that RFA/ERFA tenders are not guaranteed, so just because a player is tendered (as either as a RFA or ERFA) that is not a guaranty that the player will ultimately make the final 53-man roster. The player can be released at any time, even after signing the tender, and he will count zero against the team’s Salary Cap.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (UFAs):
The following 14 players are Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs) and will be free to sign with other teams if they haven’t re-signed with the Ravens before Free Agency begins on March 11th at 4:00 p.m.:
- TE Dallas Clark
- NT Terrence Cody
- TE Ed Dickson
- CB Corey Graham
- DT Arthur Jones
- WR Jacoby Jones
- S James Ihedigbo
- S Jeromy Miles
- OT Eugene Monroe
- OT Michael Oher
- TE Dennis Pitta
- RB Bernard Scott
- LB Daryl Smith
- WR Brandon Stokley (has announced intention to retire)
2013 SALARY CAP CARRYOVER:
Under the CBA, teams are allowed to carry over excess Salary Cap space from one year to the next. The Ravens finished the 2013 season with around $1.531M in excess Cap space.
PROJECTED ADJUSTED TEAM CAP AND SALARY CAP COMMITMENT:
Based on all of the above, it is estimated that the Ravens will have an adjusted Team Salary Cap of $127.330M. The team’s adjusted Cap consists of the projected league Salary Cap of $126.3M, plus the carryover of the 2013 excess Cap space of just over $1.531M, less adjustments for workout bonuses.
NOTE: There will be further adjustments for earned and unearned 2013 incentives that will raise or lower that adjusted Cap a bit. That incentive adjustment usually isn’t disclosed unto March.
As of the beginning of the league year on March 11th, the league’s Salary Cap is governed by the “Rule of 51”. This CBA mandate dictates that during the offseason, when rosters can swell to 90 players, only the highest 51 Salary Cap numbers (and all 2013 bonus prorations and all dead money from released players) count towards the Salary Cap.
So, after assigning the above ERFA and RFA tenders (depending on whether the RFAs actually receive tenders), but prior to the team making any other roster moves (release, retirements, trades, restructures), the team would enter the 2014 league year with a “Rule of 51” Salary Cap commitment of somewhere between $118.577-120.515M. This would put the team at $6.814-8.752M in Salary Cap space.
With that said, this Cap space of between $6.814M and $8.752M will be greatly affected by……..
Based on the above, it’s pretty clear that the Ravens are going to have to create additional Salary Cap space in order to be able to sign or re-sign other players to the roster. There are two primary ways of creating additional Salary Cap space – (1) restructuring/extending of contracts and/or (2) releasing/trading players.
The below chart lays out the Salary Cap implications of the release (or trade) of some Ravens players:
As the above chart shows there are different implications to releasing a player prior to June 1 and after June 1. Releasing the player before June 1 allows the player to be fully cleared off the books immediately, by taking the enter hit of dead money (the acceleration of bonus money from signing bonuses) in the present year. This generally makes for a smaller amount of Cap savings, but also keeps the release from having any Cap implications in the following season. Releasing a player after June 1 (or using a June 1 designation on a release prior to June 1), allows for a more sizeable Cap savings, but pushing dead money onto the following year’s Cap. More importantly, though, any Cap savings realized from a post-June 1 release (or a June 1 designation release) is not available until after June 1, so there’s no benefit to such a release in March, when the money is generally needed to sign or re-sign players to build your roster.
The Ravens have historically shied away from releasing players post-June 1. In the past, they have at most used just one post-June 1 release.
McCLAIN/LEACH/KOCH: These three are probably the most likely players to get released. Each provides a decent amount of Cap savings. McClain, while returning admirably from a serious neck injury, hasn’t looked particularly good and probably isn’t worth $3.2M in base salary.
While certainly a valuable team leader, the Ravens barely used Leach this past season, which sort of begs the question – why did they ever re-sign him in the first place? With that said, though, the hiring of Leach’s old head coach, Gary Kubiak, as Offensive Coordinator may possibly give Leach a reprieve.
As far as Koch goes, you have to wonder whether a $2.2M salary (and a $2.8M Cap number) is just too much to pay for a good, but not great, punter?
CANTY/YANDA: Both of these players are probably safe. Canty is likely safe because he simply doesn’t cost that much for the position/role he plays. Yanda, who does have a high Cap number, simply doesn’t provide a lot of pre-June 1 Cap savings, and probably deserves a mulligan for his injury-plagued 2013 campaign.
SUGGS: Now we get to the more interesting decisions. Terrell Suggs is entering the final year of his contract, is on the wrong side of age 30, and much like Anquan Boldin last offseason, represents the single easiest place to find the most Cap savings from one player. Given his Cap number and the need to address other roster spots, it seems highly unlikely that the Ravens will let Suggs play out the last year of his contract and pay him his $7.8M base salary.
That means the Ravens are left with two options for Suggs – contract extension or release.
A contract extension would likely keep Suggs a Raven for the rest of his career and lower his 2013 Cap number of $12.4M by a good $3-5M. Back in September, a contract extension appeared to be the more likely outcome, but after Suggs’ disappearing act for much of the last three quarters of the season, it’s now a fair question if he will return at all.
Releasing Suggs would create an immediate $7.8M in Salary Cap space and would go a long way toward creating an abundance of Cap space to address other issues.
NGATA: Ngata is another interesting situation. While there is a lot of immediate Cap space available from releasing Suggs, there is a lot more dead money to be considered when it comes to Ngata. Releasing Ngata prior to June 1 would provide only $1M in Salary Cap savings, but would cause a whopping $15M in dead money to hit against the Cap. That’s a lot of dead money and way more than most teams are usually willing to take on. Releasing Ngata after June 1 would provide a bundle of Cap savings – $8.5M – but would cause $7.5M to be pushed off onto the 2015 Cap. More importantly, though, as stated above, that $8.5M in new Cap space created by a June 1 release would not be available to the Ravens until June 2nd. By then, most, if not all, of the players that they’d like to re-sign or sign as free agents would be long gone.
As such, releasing Ngata would not look like a likely proposition. However, while Ngata has played well, the question the Ravens have to ask themselves is whether he has played well enough to be worth his 2014 base salary of $8.5M? Sometimes in these situations, it comes down to a cash decision as much as a Cap decision.
If the Ravens’ answer to that question is “No”, then they will need to decide whether to take less Cap savings, but all of the dead money in 2014, or to receive more 2014 Cap saving, at the expense of $7.5M worth of Cap space in 2015. One thing to consider with a post-June 1 release, though, is that, while the $7.5M is savings is not available until June 2nd and is a sizeable amount of new Cap space to receive in June, the team could use that to sign their draft picks (who are usually now signed in May) or used to sign a player like Torrey Smith to a contract extension. It would also give them a surplus to carry into the season and whatever is left over at the end of the season can then be carried over into 2015. That surplus could then essentially used to offset the $7.5M in dead money carried over in 2015 by releasing Ngata post-June 1, and would offset and somewhat lessening the impact of that dead money carryover.
One other issue for both Suggs and Ngata would be the question of whether they would accept a pay cut as part of a restructured contract. This is an oft-misunderstood part of NFL contracts – rarely does a contract restructure include less money for the player. It is usually just an accounting exercise that gives the player the same amount of money, but as a bonus instead of as base salary. Also, when players are asked to accept a pay cut, it is usually in the circumstance where the threat of release – and then signing elsewhere for less money – works in the favor of the team. Given the numbers and the status of both Suggs and Ngata, a pay cut seems very unlikely.
RICE/WEBB: In both of these cases, the dead money versus Cap savings makes a release highly unlikely. For Rice, it’s even worse, because a pre-June 1 release would actually cost the Ravens more than it would to keep him on the team. Neither would seem to be candidate for a post-June 1 release either, and it’s likely that the Ravens will give Webb another year to prove that his injured knee is the reason for his up-and-down 2013 season.
Webb may, however, he a good candidate for a contract restructure, which could free up around $5M in Cap space, but add around $1.7M onto the Cap each year from 2015 to 2017.
OUTLOOK: When compared to recent seasons, the Ravens are actually in reasonably good Cap shape. Still, they do have a lot of work to do. With pending free agents like TE Dennis Pitta, OT Eugene Monroe, WR Jacoby Jones, LB Daryl Smith and CB Corey Graham – amongst others – the Ravens are going to have to find a way to create the necessary Cap space to address those players and to bolster other areas of need.
Over the next several months, there will be many reports on the Ravens’ Cap status, most of which will not include many of the above factors that provide a full, comprehensive picture of the team’s Cap status. Barring an early release or re-signing of a player, the Ravens will enter the 2014 offseason with around $7-9M in Cap space. From there, the Salary Cap is a puzzle, and the Ravens’ Front Office will likely use a combination of the above maneuvers to create the Cap space necessary to address the team’s many roster issues.