Like every offseason 2016 will present its challenges and difficult decisions for the Ravens and every other team in the NFL. Successful front offices and teams like Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens, navigate this landscape better than most, and it’s one of the biggest reasons Baltimore has been a contender year in and year out.
Perhaps the biggest question the Ravens face going into next year is whether to extend Marshal Yanda or Kelechi Osemele. Do you keep one of the best guards in the league and one of the best players in franchise history in Yanda, a player who embodies what it means to be a Raven but on the flip side will be heading into his third contract and on the wrong side of 30?
Or do you extend Osemele? An ascending player heading into the prime of his career who certainly won’t lack suitors should he hit the open market.
The general consensus seems to be that the Ravens can only afford one or the other. Keeping both is unrealistic and the Ravens will need to make a difficult choice at some point in the not too distant future.
The reality though is the Ravens will have the financial flexibility in 2016 to extend both, and locking them both up for the next few years could be one of the most important investments they could make in their hunt for another Super Bowl.
According to our capologist Brian McFarland, the Ravens currently salary cap in 2016 sits at $132,773,400 in accordance with the Rule of 51. Rule of 51 states that from the beginning of the new league year until the season opener only the team’s top 51 salaries (to include base salaries, roster bonuses, and likely to be earned incentives) and all bonus prorations count toward the team’s salary cap. This number comes with alot of flexibility behind it.
Included in that number is Joe Flacco’s massive $28.5 million dollar cap hit. The Ravens and Flacco have already acknowledged that an extension would be in the best interests of both parties, and would be a win for both Flacco and the Ravens. An extension would likely mean at least $5 million in cap savings. There are also a handful of veteran starters whose release or retirement would free up the necessary money the Ravens would need to keep both.
One such candidate could be Jeremy Zuttah.
Zuttah was certainly an upgrade from Gino Gradkowski in 2014 but doesn’t dominate defenders like Osemele and Yanda and is coming off of hip surgery. With John Urschel waiting in the wings Zuttah is likely replaceable. With the promise that Urschel showed in 2014, along with his well publicized intelligence he would be a logical fit to take over at center. The Ravens would save $2.1 million in the process and could use that money to help retain the most dominant guard tandem in the league in Osemele and Yanda.
The foundation of success for the Ravens offense starts with a stout offensive line, and all we need to do is look at the last two years as proof.
In 2013 the Ravens had one of the weakest offensive lines in the NFL. The rushing attack averaged a league worst 3.1 yards per carry, and Flacco had his worst year since entering the league in 2008. He was sacked 48 times which was tied for the fourth highest total in the league. The Ravens finished 25th in total offense.
In 2014 Ozzie Newsome made it his top priority to bolster the offensive line. The offense had its best year in franchise history. Flacco was the second least sacked quarterback in the league being dropped just 19 times. The Ravens finished 12th overall in total offense, averaged the sixth highest total in yards per carry, and Flacco had a career year.
When it comes to Yanda and Osemele the debate shouldn’t be one versus the other.
The bottom line is the Ravens need to find a way to retain both.
With the right moves the Ravens will have the financial flexibility to do it.
Getting deals done with both would be a critical move to keep the offense humming beyond 2015.