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Ravens will manage their roster by the 80/20 rule

Posted By Tony Lombardi On February 25, 2013 @ 12:07 pm In Blog View,Featured,Lombardi's Way | 13 Comments

When an NFL team drafts well, they will eventually experience the cruelty of the salary cap and its razor edge. Mix in a Super Bowl title, and the blade becomes even sharper.

That’s just the way of the world in the NFL.

Talent begets winning and winning begets bigger paychecks. And once those checks push a team’s salary cap out of whack some players will move on to teams that have more inviting cap climates.

You can’t blame the players really. One crushing blow to the knee or another shot to the head that registers a scar to the brain are violent reminders of how fleeting a career can be in the National Football League. The players have to get it when the going is good.

Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe and Cary Williams will get their big paydays. In all likelihood Maryland State Tax deductions won’t be part of their checks. Sure they’ll want to stay – everyone wants to remain a Raven, all things being equal. What’s not to like?

But all things will not be equal and these players will find better offers from teams with cap space who are attracted to winners. It’s the downside to hoisting The Lombardi.

So naturally the Ravens will employ their dependable credos:

  • Next man up!
  • Right player, right price!

A couple of seasons ago the Ravens parted ways with Kelly Gregg, Willis McGahee, Derrick Mason and Todd Heap. Last year they said goodbye to Jarret Johnson and Ben Grubbs. And despite the loss of all that talent, since the departures the Ravens are one dropped pass away from two consecutive Super Bowl appearances.

Credit the organization for that. They’ve grown and they’ve become better at evaluating talent, managing it and optimizing rosters with a strategic mix of talent. And as this evolution of the organization takes shape, another credo continues to surface, usually from their outside-the-box thinking owner, Steve Bisciotti.

“80% of the production at 20% of the cost.”

Such an approach will pave the way to a roster that is deeper but might not possess the star power, the names with cache. You know, those guys that windbags named Dierdorf and Evans and Bayless suck up to.

Of course to implement such a plan, it requires a keen eye for talent. Not just at the collegiate level, but also at the professional level.

It’s easy for teams to find the free agent stars and empty their wallets while juggling their respective caps. Only Dan Snyder can screw that up. But that’s not the Ravens’ style. Instead they look for complementary players who when paired up with current players deliver optimal value. Names like Corey Graham, Cory Redding, Bernard Pollard and Jacoby Jones come to mind.

In the months ahead, we’ll learn who the Ravens believe can be those kinds of players when they dip their toe in the waters of free agency. We’ll also learn which players on the current roster could fall prey to the 80/20 rule. Here are a few who might:

Ed Reed ~ We would all like to see Ed finish his career as a Raven but pride and a lack of an agent my get in the way of that happening. Indianapolis is a possibility for No. 20. Waiting in the wings: Christian Thompson

Anquan Boldin ~ In many ways the heart and soul of the Ravens offense, bringing a defensive mentality to the position of wide receiver. It’s doubtful that the relatively soft Tandon Doss can deliver 80% of Boldin’s production but he clearly fits the right price. Boldin’s cap number [1] in 2013 is over $7.5M and his salary is $6M.

Sam Koch ~ Koch has been one of the game’s best at pinning opponents inside the 10, something he did 17 times during the 2010 season. Since then he’s only done it 11 times, 5 times in 2012. His net in the playoffs fell off to 34.3 yards on average, down from the regular season average of 40.8 yards. Expect the Ravens to bring in another leg to push Sam.

Morgan Cox ~ Cox is the invisible man, exactly what you want for a long-snapper. But he’s now a restricted free agent and the Ravens might look to a less expensive alternative. If you recall, that’s exactly how Cox took the job from previous incumbent Matt Katula. Expect Cox to be back for training camp but like Koch he’ll get competition.

Terrence Cody ~ Cody could be labeled another Ravens’ invisible man. Trouble for Terrence is that he’s not a long-snapper. He just doesn’t make enough plays and is easily replaceable. DeAngelo Tyson or even a serviceable rookie might make even Cody’s parents forget about the Mount from Alabama.

Jacoby Jones ~ Clearly an electric player and a fan favorite, Jones is due $3M in 2013 plus another $1M in the form of a roster bonus. His cap figure [1] is $4.9M. Asa Jackson and Donte Thompson could be the economy-sized returners that could supplant Jones. Practice squad player Tommy Streeter could emerge as well in the passing game.

Bryant McKinnie ~ McKinnie played well down the stretch for the Ravens and his return to the starting offensive line, while not solely responsible for the elevated play, clearly was the right move at the right time. McKinnie and John Harbaugh [2] have formed a bond but to preserve it, the Ravens may have to spend more than they’d like. But selling McKinnie won’t be easy for his agent. Teams may wonder why the Ravens gave up on him if they do pass and such a pass could trigger flashbacks of another LT that exited Baltimore for a paycheck and not the love of the game. The most logical replacement is Michael Oher with Jah Reid moving to right tackle.

Dannell Ellerbe ~ The only downside at this point for Ellerbe other than his steep price tag is his durability. His kamikaze style of play doesn’t help. Of all the Ravens free agents not named Joe Flacco, Ellerbe is likely the most desirable. Finding those 80/20’s at other positions can help the Ravens retain the former undrafted free agent. There is no one on the Ravens roster that can pick up 80% of Ellerbe’s productivity. The Ravens will look to the draft to replace Dannell if he decides to leave.

Paul Kruger ~ Kruger’s best days are ahead of him but his performances in the post season and the unresolved Flacco contract are likely to escort him out the door in Owings Mills. The Ravens would love to retain him but his return is an extreme long-shot. The Ravens will hope that a healthier Pernell McPhee can pick up some of the slack should Kruger leave as expected. A dark horse replacement possibility: Michael McAdoo.

Cary Williams ~ Despite the criticisms from fans Cary played well during the back end of the season and in the playoffs. Essentially he’s played his way off the roster. Jimmy Smith’s return to health along with that of Lardarius Webb will serve as Williams’ red carpet to prosperity elsewhere.

Vonta Leach ~ Vonta is due a base of $3M in 2013 and carries a cap figure just north of $4.3M. He’s clearly the best fullback in the game and a player the Ravens love but that’s a big number for someone who takes less than 50% of the team’s offensive snaps. Replacement TBD, but the Ravens have found decent FB’s in the past in the mid to late rounds.

Jameel McClain ~ Jameel is a very average linebacker and there’s very little if any fall-off in production when less expensive alternatives like Josh Bynes and Albert McClellan take the field.


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URLs in this post:

[1] cap number: http://russellstreetreport.com/salary-cap/

[2] McKinnie and John Harbaugh: http://russellstreetreport.com/the-story-of-john-harbaugh-and-bryant-mckinnie/