Originally Published, December 27, 2016; UPDATED March 5, 2017
After an uneven season for both the offense and defense (although, overall, the defense did play a bit better than expected), now comes time for the Ravens to focus on 2017 and determine which players can be contributors in the future and which players it is time to part ways with. The good news for the Ravens is that, unlike how the 2015 season ended, the 2016 draft appears to have produced a stellar group of rookies, thus providing some optimism for the future.
So, with that in mind, here’s your look at the Ravens’ 2017 Free Agency and Salary Cap status:
PLAYERS UNDER CONTRACT
The Ravens presently have the following 54 players under contract for 2017 (with Cap Numbers indicated):
QBs (2): Joe Flacco ($24.55M); Dustin Vaughan ($540K)
OL (9): Marshal Yanda ($7.986M); Ronnie Stanley ($4.656M); Jeremy Zuttah ($4.607M); John Urschel ($726K); Alex Lewis ($663K); Stephane Nembot ($544K); Jerrell Broxton ($465K); Jerrell Pughsley ($540K); Matt Struka ($465K)
LBs (9): Elvis Dumervil ($8.375M); Terrell Suggs ($6.95M); CJ Mosley ($2.796M); Kamalei Correa ($1.307M); Albert McClellan ($1.2M); Za’Darius Smith ($736K); Matt Judon ($604K); Cavellis Luckett ($541K); Bo Lokombo ($465K)
The above 54 players are under contract for a total Rule of 51 Salary Cap commitment (which includes dead money from players no longer on the team) of $155,751,169. (2017 Salary Cap Spreadsheet).
Late last week, it was announced that the league-wide Salary Cap for 2017 would be $167M.This will initially leave the Ravens with around $12,748,831 in Cap space ($13,801,957 if you include the 2016 Cap carryover – see below), accounting for the 54 players presently under contract.
This will be – and has already been, in some cases – the basis for early reports on the status of the Ravens’ Salary Cap, but it’s important to keep in mind that this number is based only on the 54 players that are presently under contract and nowhere near representative of the team’s Cap with a full roster.
So, between now and March 9th at 4:00 p.m., when the new league year and free agency begins, the Ravens will have a lot of work to do.
PRACTICE SQUAD FREE AGENTS (FAs)
In past years, the Ravens have usually re-signed most of their Practice Squad players to “Future” contracts for the following year. So far, the Ravens have signed 7 of the 9 players who were on the Practice Squad at the conclusion of the season. The Ravens have also signed two players from the CFL to 2017 contracts.
The only player who ended the season on the Ravens Practice Squad and who currently remain unsigned is CB Sam Brown.
2016 SALARY CAP CARRYOVER
Under the terms of the CBA, teams are now allowed to carry over excess Salary Cap space from one year to the next. According to the NLFPA, the Ravens finished the 2016 season with $2,553,126 in available Cap space and have elected to carry over that amount onto the 2017 Cap.
OTHER SALARY CAP ADJUSTMENTS
WORKOUT BONUS ADJUSTMENT: All teams will have an adjustment of $619,200 added to their Cap for team workout bonuses. This number is essentially the total amount of CBA mandated workout bonuses that could be earned by the players in the offseason. This amount is a debit from the Cap. Once training camp begins, this debit will be removed and the actual amount of workout bonuses earned by the players will be added onto the Cap.
INCENTIVE ADJUSTMENTS: The Ravens’ 2017 Cap will also see adjustments for incentives earned that didn’t count against the 2016 Cap (“Not Likely To Be Earned” incentives) that were actually earned and incentives that did count against the 2016 Cap (“Likely To Be Earned” incentives) but weren’t earned.
The total of these incentive adjustments are usually not disclosed until the beginning of the 2017 league year in March.
The Ravens have often liked to use NLTBE incentives as a way of lessening the present year’s Cap number, especially in years with tighter Caps. It has been publicly reported that TE Dennis Pitta has earned $3M in NLTBE and NLFPA records indicate that CB Shareece Wright earned $500K worth of NLTBE incentives. Both of these will count against the 2017 as a negative adjustment to the team’s Adjusted Team Cap.
It has also been reported that S Lardarius Webb has $500K worth of NLTBE incentives, but the parameters for those were never reported. There may, of course, be other incentives for other players that were also not reported.
There may be more unreported NLTBE incentives that could impact the team’s 2017 Cap.
The Ravens had no LTBE incentives counting against the 2016 Cap, so there will be no offsets in the Ravens’ favor.
2011/2012 CAP ADJUSTMENT REPAYMENT: When the new CBA was agreed upon in 2011, the Salary Cap saw a reduction and, for the first few years, stagnation. Foreseeing this, the terms of the CBA allowed for teams to borrow ($3M in 2011; $1.5M in 2012) against future Caps, but forced teams to repay that amount during the 2014 through 2017 league years. The CBA left it up to the team to decide when to repay those amounts. To date, the Ravens have paid back $2.8125M, so they will have to pay back the remaining $1.6875M this year, which will count as a negative adjustment to the team’s 2017 Adjusted Cap.
PROVEN PERFORMANCE ESCALATOR: PROVEN PERFORMANCE ESCALATOR: The 2011 CBA mandated 4-year contracts for all draft picks, which eliminated a player’s chance to receive the higher paying RFA tender in their 4th year. To offset this, the new CBA implemented the Proven Performance Escalator (PPE), which allows lower draft picks (3rd through 7th rounds) to receive an upgrade salary that is equivalent to the low RFA tender if the player performed well over the 1st 3 years of his contract. The player’s “performance” is measured by playing time, so the escalator is earned if the player either (1) plays in 35% of offensive or defensive snaps in 2 of the player’s first 3 seasons or (2) plays in 35% of the cumulative snaps over his first 3 seasons.
The Ravens currently have 4 players drafted in 2014 who are still playing under the terms of their rookie contracts – TE Crockett Gillmore, RB Lorenzo Taliaferro, DE Brent Urban and G/C John Urschel. None of the 4 have met the necessary playing time thresholds, so the Ravens will see no PPE increases this year.
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 ($615K, $540K or $465K). Once tendered, these players are fully under the team’s control and are not free to negotiate with other teams.
The Ravens have 7 players who are Exclusive Rights Free Agents (ERFAs):
LB – Brennen Beyer ($465K)
LB – Lamar Louis ($540K)
WR – Chris Matthews ($615K)
LB – Patrick Onwuasor ($540K)
CB – Sheldon Price ($540K)
WR/KR – Keenan Reynolds ($465K)
OT – De’Ondre Wesley ($540K)
In the past, the Ravens have usually tendered all of their ERFAs and it should be expected that they will do so again this year.
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 – $3.910M
2nd Round Tender: allows the team to receive compensation of 2nd round pick – $2.747M
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 – $1.797M
The above Tender amounts just estimates at this point. 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% and the maximum increase being 10%. An increase in the Salary Cap from $155.27M to $168M would represent an 8.2% increase in the Cap, so the above estimates for the RFA tenders are based on that 8.2% increase. If Cap end up increase by more or less than the 8.2%, the RFA tender amounts will be adjusted to reflect that actual increase in the Cap.
The Ravens have 6 players who are Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) – with original draft round indicated:
Over the years, the Ravens have tendered some of their RFAs and non-tendered others with the hopes of re-signing them to cheaper 1- or 2-year deals with the veteran minimum salary (and sometimes a small signing bonus). The 2017 veteran minimum salary for a player with 3 accrued seasons is $690K.
Of the 6, it seems very possible that only RB Terrence West and WR Michael Campanaro are the only sure things to receive a RFA tender. Both would likely only receive the low RFA tender.
Since it seems unlikely that the Ravens would want to pay $1.797M for a back-up level player, the rest of the RFAs would seem to be candidates to non-tendered, with some possibly being re-signed to lesser deals. Of those 4 remaining RFAs, Guard Ryan Jensen would seem to be the most likely other RFA to receive a tender.
Keeping in mind, though, that RFA (and ERFA) tenders are not guaranteed, so just because a player is tendered (as either a RFA or an ERFA), there is no guaranty that the player will ultimately make the final 53-man roster.
PROJECTED ADJUSTED TEAM CAP AND RULE OF 51 SALARY CAP COMMITMENT
Based on all of the above, it is estimated that the Ravens will have an Adjusted Team Salary Cap of $163,746,426. The team’s Adjusted Cap consists of the projected league-wide Salary Cap of $167M, plus the carryover of the 2016 excess Cap space of $2,553,126, less adjustments for workout bonuses ($619,200) and the Incentives (est. $3.5M) and Cap repayment adjustments ($1.6875M).
So, for the purposes of this projection – and presenting the likely worst case scenario as the starting point – if the team tenders all of their ERFAs and only West and Campanaro as a RFAs – and prior to the team making any other roster moves (releases or retirements) or the restructure of any contracts – the team will have 63 players under contract/tendered.
During the offseason, though, when roster can balloon to up to 90 players, only the highest 51 Salary Cap numbers (and all 2017 bonus prorations and all dead money from released players) are counted for Salary Cap purposes.
As such, the Ravens’ estimated Rule of 51 number – again, if they tender the above mentioned RFAs and ERFAs – would be a Cap commitment of approximately $158,640,169. See the “2017 Projected Cap” tab here.
When compared with the team’s Adjusted Cap of $163,746,426, this would leave the Ravens projected to just under $5.106M under the Salary Cap.
Again, this is just the team’s starting point and again underscores that the Ravens have much work to do to create the Cap space necessary to fill what appears to be multiple holes in their roster. That said, though, at this time last offseason, the Ravens projected to be OVER the Cap, so they are in a much better starting position than a year ago.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (UFAs)
The following 11 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 15th at 4:00 p.m.:
WR – Kamar Aiken
G – Vlad Ducasse
S – Matt Elam
DE – Lawrence Guy
FB – Kyle Juszczyk
DB – Anthony Levine
CB – Chris Lewis-Harris
QB – Ryan Mallett
CB – Jerraud Powers
OT – Rick Wagner
NT – Brandon Williams
2017 DRAFT PICKS
The Ravens will initially have 7 draft picks in the 2017 draft. They presently have all of their original draft picks in rounds 1 through 6 and received a 3rd round Compensatory pick for the 2016 loss of Guard Kelechi Osemele. The Ravens will draft 16th in the 1st Round.
Based on their present draft position, the Ravens will likely have a rookie Cap of a little over $6M. While that number won’t factor into their initial Cap calculations, it is something that the team will be very mindful of as they otherwise build their roster.
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 re-sign players and/or 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/trade/retirement (all basically treated the same for Cap purposes) of some Ravens players:
As the above chart shows there are different implications to releasing a player prior to June 1 and releasing the player 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, but it can be a useful tool when a team has a tight Salary Cap.
ARRINGTON: CB Kyle Arrington seemed like a prime candidate to be released last year and only survived by accepting a paycut. After spending the entire 2016 season on Injured Reserve (IR), it would seem that Arrington is again a candidate for release and it’s unlikely that even another paycut would save him this time around. Releasing Arrington would create $2.1M in Cap space.
DUMERVIL: Elvis may indeed be leaving the building in 2017. While Dumervil can still provide some pass rush abilities – and more time removed from injury will be additionally helpful – a base salary of $6M seems high for a 33-year old situational pass rusher, who appears to be on the downhill portion of his career. Releasing Dumervil would create $6M in Cap space.
LEWIS: While the team may be faced with having only 1 returning Safety (Eric Weddle), Safety Kendrick Lewis also looks like a prime candidate for release. Lewis, who finished 2016 on IR, was largely ineffective when he did see the field as a reserve in 2016. Releasing Lewis would create $1.8M in Cap Space.
WRIGHT: The 2016 re-signing of CB Shareece Wright looks to have been a bad investment. Wright did have his moments this season – especially, the season opener against Buffalo – but provided far too little good play to remain the starter at CB. It’s also not a good sign when the team owner calls you out at the end of season press conference. Releasing Wright would create $3.166M in Cap savings if released before June 1st or $4.5M if released after June 1st (or prior with a post-June 1 release designation).
PITTA: This is a tough one. Pitta has made an incredible recovery from his 2 hip injuries and has proven that he can survive an NFL season intact. However, with a $5.5M base salary due in 2017, he too appears to be vulnerable. His agreement to accept a $4M paycut in 2016 saved his roster spot and gave him a chance to prove himself, but it remains to be seen if his 2016 season – remarkable as it was – was enough to earn his return at a $5.5M salary. Another paycut again this offseason may be needed for Pitta to return (although with him playing all 16 games this year, another paycut with fair NLTBE incentives will probably be much harder to fashion).
Releasing Pitta would create $3.3M in Cap savings if released before June 1st or $5.5M if released after June 1st (or prior with a post-June 1 release designation).
WEBB: Lardarius Webb’s move to Safety this past year provided mixed results and, although he did seem to improve as he become more comfortable in his new spot, his high 2017 salary again has his spot on the team in jeopardy. There is no question that Webb is a favorite of the organization and does appear to very much be amongst the team leaders in the locker room, but $5.5M is a lot of cash to pay a middling Safety, even if Webb does provide a bit of versatility in the back end. Releasing Webb would create $5.5M in Cap space.
WATSON: This is an interesting decision and one that will likely hinge on whether Dennis Pitta returns. Presently, the Ravens will have 4 young TEs under team control for 2017 (Gillmore, Boyle, Williams, Waller), but they all come with serious concerns, be it injury (Gillmore, Williams), suspensions (Boyle) or inexperience (Waller). This is the exact reason Watson was signed in 2016, and unfortunately it appears that not much has changed. Watson spent all of 2016 on IR and will be 36 years old next season. It’s hard to imagine that Watson will be worth his $3M salary next year, but if the team does part ways with Pitta, they could conceivably keep Watson around to provide the veteran leadership that they envisioned when they signed him last offseason.
Releasing Watson would create $3M in Cap space.
ZUTTAH: Center Jeremy Zuttah suffered through yet another up and down season and while not overly expensive for a starting Center ($3.5M), it time to wonder whether the Ravens will decide to look in another direction. Of course, had John Urschel or Ryan Jensen shown they could hold down the starting spot, Zuttah may have been replaced sooner. Releasing Zuttah would create just under $2.4M in Cap savings if released before June 1st or $3.5M if released after June 1st (or prior with a post-June 1 release designation).
WALLACE: In November, the thought that the Ravens might consider releasing Wallace would have seemed crazy, but over the last month of the season it appears that some of Wallace’s past bad habits (disappearing during games, dropped passes, not fighting for the ball, pouting) returned. As such, it remains to be seen whether a 1,000-yard season will be enough to keep him around and overcome his high 2017 Cap number ($8M) and high base salary/roster bonus ($5.75M). Releasing Wallace would create $5.75M in Cap space.
SUGGS: The Ravens have said that Terrell Suggs will return in 2017, which should pretty much end any speculation regarding the future Ravens Ring of Honor designee.
The Ravens will have a lot of work to do with week in order to get their Salary Cap in order. They will be offering ERFA and RFA tenders to those players who they would like to retain and will be making several cuts this week as well. The Ravens do have the ability to make substantial Cap space, it’s just a matter of how much space they want and how deeply they want to cut to get there.