In stark contrast to the past couple of years, the Ravens’ Salary Cap picture has brightened substantially. Whereas over the last 2 years, the Ravens had to be content with only re-signing their own and had to be resigned to losing homegrown talent, this year the front office can enjoy a much better Salary Cap position. However, they do have a lot of work to do and it starts with re-signing a couple of their own marquee Free Agents.
With yesterday’s long-anticipated release of Cornerback Chris McAlister, the Ravens are approximately $26.5M under the Salary Cap, based on a projected league-wide 2009 Salary Cap of $123M. There have been recent rumors that the 2009 Cap could go as high as $130M, but for now, we’ll work off the original estimate of $123M, which represents the same $7M per year increase that has occurred over the last couple of seasons. If the Cap does increase by more, then the Ravens (and all teams) will just have that much more to work with.
The $26.5M under figure is a bit misleading though, because it includes only the 48 players that are presently under contract - many of whom are only making minimum salaries and who won’t likely be around come September. It does not include the team’s 8 Exclusive Rights Free Agents (EFAs) and 9 Restricted Free Agents (RFAs). Those players will have to be tendered with EFA and RFA contracts by February 26th in order for the team to retain their rights.
The 8 EFAs are Edgar Jones, Jameel McClain, Steve Hauschka, Jalen Parmalee, Darren Stone, Kelly Talavou, Scott Kuhn and Robert McCune. These players, who have less than 3 years of league service, must be tendered with player contracts of either $460K or $385K (based on whether the player has 1 or 2 years of service in the league). Once tendered, these players will be totally under the control of the Ravens and are not free to entertain offers from other teams.
Because of the low cost (relatively speaking, of course) of the EFA tenders, the Ravens will likely tender all of their EFAs.
The 9 RFAs are Dawan Landry, Sam Koch, Demetrius Williams, Quinn Sypniewski, Derrick Martin, Brandon McKinney, PJ Daniels, Evan Oglesby and Marcus Maxwell. These players must be offered RFA Qualifying Offers in order for the Ravens to retain their rights over the players, but the players do have the right to negotiate an Offer Sheet with another team. If the player does sign an Offer Sheet with another team, the Ravens can either match that offer and retain the player under the terms of that Offer Sheet or, depending on the level of RFA tender offered by the Ravens, receive draft pick compensation.
There are 4 levels of RFA tenders:
High Tender of $2.792M – Allows the Ravens to match any Offer Sheet or receive the other team’s 1st and 3rd round picks
Middle Tender of $2.198M – Allows the Ravens to match or receive the other team’s 1st round pick
2nd Round Tender of $1.545M – Allows the Ravens to match or receive the other team’s 2nd round pick
Low Tender of $1.01M – Allows the Ravens to match or receive a draft pick equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted. If the player was undrafted, then there is no compensation.
The prediction here is that the Ravens will make the following RFA tenders:
Dawan Landry (5th round compensation): 2nd Round Tender
Sam Koch (5th round): 2nd Round Tender
Demetrius Williams (4th round): Low Tender
Quinn Sypniewski (5th round): Low Tender
Derrick Martin (5th round): Low Tender
Brandon McKinney (Undrafted – no compensation): Low Tender
PJ Daniels (4th round): No Tender
Evan Oglesby (Undrafted): No Tender
Marcus Maxwell (7th): No Tender
With their EFAs and RFAs tendered, the Ravens will then have 62 players under contract or tendered. These tenders would reduce the Ravens’ available Salary Cap space by approximately $10.5M. However, because only the top 51 Cap numbers count at this time of the offseason (known as the “Rule of 51”), the lowest 11 Cap numbers will be deducted from that figure. As such, the Ravens’ available Cap space will only be reduced by $6.7M, leaving the Ravens with $19.8M in available Cap space.
There is one other deduction that will occur. In 2008, the Ravens had several players who earned additional salary by meeting incentives that were built into their contracts. These incentives will be carried over into 2009 since they were Not Likely to Be Earned Incentives and did not count against the 2008 Cap.
Willie Anderson earned an additional $1M for playing in more than 40% of the offensive plays this season. The other major incentive called for Samari Rolle to be able to earn up to $2.3M in incentives, but the exact criteria of those incentives has never been disclosed. As such, he likely earned some of that amount, and perhaps all of it. For the purposes of this calculation, we will assume that he earned the entire $2.3M (and if not, the estimated Cap space will be increased).
The deduction of the above $3.3M in earned incentives will leave the Ravens will an estimated $16.5M in available Salary Cap space to spend, pending the re-signing of a player or the team applying the Franchise Tag to one of its pending Free Agents. The deadline to designate a Franchise player is Thursday, February 19th.
While the available Cap space should allow the Ravens to retain their key Free Agents, getting them signed may be another story. The team may have to employ the Franchise Tag in order to keep a player off the Free Agent market and allow more time to formalize a new deal. If the Ravens do use the Franchise Tag, it will likely be used on either Terrell Suggs or Jason Brown, since using the Tag on Ray Lewis would take up $11.3M of Cap space and the team has made it clear that it will not use the Tag on Lewis. For a discussion of the Ray Lewis negotiations, go here (The Cost to re-sign Ray Lewis).
If it comes down to it, the choice between Suggs and Brown will be interesting. Suggs, who was franchised last year, would have to be given a Franchise tender of $10.2M, a 20% increase over last year’s salary.
If Franchised, Brown would receive the Offensive Lineman Tender, which is the average of the top 5 salaries for all offensive lineman, a group that is dominated by highly paid Offensive Tackles. Unfortunately, for the Ravens, there is no Franchise tender specifically for Centers. The Franchise tender for Brown would be $8.45M.
Ideally, the Ravens would like to have at least one of Suggs or Brown signed so that the Tag could be used on the un-signed player of the two. If neither is signed by February 19th, it is likely that Suggs would again receive the Tag.