Will The Ravens Grim Reaper Return?
Just after the lockout ended in 2011, the Ravens found themselves in a really tight salary cap spot. So on Monday, July 25, 2011, Ozzie Newsome made this announcement:
“We will be making a number of roster moves in the next 48 hours that will free up salary cap space. That will give us the ability to make offers to our players we want to re-sign, plus put us in a position to sign free agents from other teams.”
Among those roster moves were the releases of Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, Willis McGahee and Kelly Gregg. It was Baltimore’s first true taste of losing hometown favorites to the jagged edge of the salary cap blade. The moves cleared $18.6M against the cap.
Today, nearly 6 years later, we wonder if another Black Monday looms.
And I think it does…
Kendrick Lewis, Kyle Arrington, Elvis Dumervil, Lardarius Webb, Dennis Pitta, Ben Watson, Shareece Wright, Mike Wallace, Lorenzo Taliaferro and the aforementioned Jeremy Zuttah are all exposed and each could be on their way out.
Lewis and Arrington seem destined for pink slips. From the rest I expect Dumervil, Webb and Pitta to follow closely behind. Add it up and it will trigger a cap savings of $18.7M.
Wright was singled out during the State of the Ravens presser but the team is thin at the position. He looked like a stud on Opening Day but a dud the rest of the way. Taliaferro doesn’t trigger much in the way of net savings when replaced but it would be no surprise to see him jettisoned for an undrafted running back who has some special teams upside. Watson is coming off an Achilles injury but if he gets a clean bill of health, even at the age of 37, he is a much better blocker than Pitta. Zuttah, I’ll address in a moment.
And that brings us to Wallace.
The fleet-footed receiver faded by the end of the season and struggled with his routes not named a go or a slant. Alligator arms also crept in by season’s end. Releasing Wallace would trigger a cap savings of $5.75M.
If Smith could be had for a smaller cap number than Wallace, would you do it?
A Bust in More Ways Than One
Elam entered the NFL with the reputation for making splash plays; for his prowess as an in-the-box safety; and for his fiery leadership on the field. Instead, as a pro, he was a player who whiffed on tackles in the open field like Chris Davis on two-strike curve balls, and in coverage he was as reliable as an Oscar announcement for Best Picture.
Now, we might be able to add dope dealer to his disappointing resume.
According to multiple sources Elam was busted in Miami and charged with possession of more than 20 grams of cannabis, one charge of possession with intent to sell or deliver, and one charge of possession of a controlled substance.
The Ravens had no interest in bringing Elam back but he could have been a long-shot to reel in a compensatory pick. That will never happen now and one has to wonder if Elam will ever step foot again on an NFL field, having already faced one league suspension for violating the substance abuse policy.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 26, 2017
As mentioned the Ravens may have held some small measure of hope that Matt Elam would register a comp pick for the team – or at least factor into the comp pick equation. After all, Atlanta’s signing of Matt Schaub counted as an offset signing which helped to enable the Ravens to claim a third-round compensatory pick for the loss of Kelechi Osemele. That’s probably the only good thing Schaub ever did for the Ravens, but I digress…
Speaking of Comp Picks
The Ravens proudly boast about having the most comp picks of any NFL team since the league adopted the practice in 1994. The comp pick for Osemele marks their 48th such pick followed by the Green Bay Packers who have been awarded 38.
In part the Ravens lead in this category can be attributed to draft day prowess. My colleague Ryan Jones has previously questioned how the team employs such picks. Adding to Ryan’s thoughts, the gap between the Ravens and the Packers, and the rest of the league for that matter, can in part be explained by a couple other factors at play.
First, the Ravens didn’t manage their salary cap very effectively during their earlier years and more recently, since 2011. Consequently, the team lost players to free agency that they really hoped to retain but couldn’t afford to due to a poorly managed cap. Those lost players triggered a consolation prize in the form of comp picks.
Secondly, the Ravens are known to seek bargains in free agency and are often attracted to players who are released by other teams prior to the end of their respective contracts. Signing players like Derrick Mason, Samari Rolle, Elvis Dumervil, Steve Smith, Sr. and Mike Wallace to name a few. Such players do not factor into the compensatory pick equation.
This offseason, one such free agent is Nick Mangold. Mangold was released by the Jets over the weekend and he could fill an area of need for the Ravens. Incumbent center Jeremy Zuttah, despite his Pro Bowl appearance this past January, has been criticized for his inability to take on powerful defensive tackles which at times has left Ravens running plays dead on arrival.
Mangold has regularly been among the highest ranked centers by Pro Football Focus and a seven-time Pro Bowler, two-time All Pro. The former Ohio State Buckeye* is 33 years old, the same age that Matt Birk was when he signed with the Ravens. Birk was a six-time Pro Bowler and two-time All Pro prior to arriving in Baltimore. As a Raven, Birk never missed a regular season game during his four seasons, and he’s arguably the best center the team has ever employed.
Prior to 2016, Mangold played in a total of 152 of 156 possible regular season games as a Jet, although he missed half of the 2016 campaign due to an ankle injury. Mangold was scheduled to make $5.6 M in 2017 while Zuttah will make $3.5M and carries a cap figure of $4.2M. Releasing Zuttah will trigger a cap savings of $2.8M. With that offset, it’s possible that the Ravens could upgrade the position with a modest buy.
This is the exact kind of deal that Ozzie Newsome swoops in on like a buzzard on road kill.
The Ravens have made it publicly known that they view Brandon Williams as vital to the team’s improvement in 2017 and that re-signing him is a priority. It remains to be seen whether the team is successful or not. The guess here is that the money thrown Williams’ way by a market flush with cap dollars will force the Ravens to fold.
And while Williams garners more public attention from the Ravens, it could be argued that their other key unrestricted free agent, Rick Wagner, is more important to the team’s success in 2017.
Wagner is a solid right tackle and the market is thin at his position. If he hits the market, and all indications are that he will, he’ll be gone. And as much as the Ravens would love to have him back, the old 80/20 rule will come into play. Look for Ozzie to make a move for a veteran guard and draft another as they bump Alex Lewis out to right tackle.
Next man up.
* When originally posted we stated that Nick Mangold went to USC. We apologize for the error and thank @BillyHennessey2 for pointing that out.