Despite the feel good vibe that came from the Ravens’ late season victory over the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers, the stink of the 2015 will likely not be easily forgotten.
It has been a season that caused Ravens fans to question just about everything about the team, from the players to the coaches to the front office. No one – not Flacco, nor Suggs, nor John Harbaugh, nor Ozzie Newsome – has escaped the bullseye of the fans wrath.
Given the team’s plunge down the standings – and the multitude of holes in their roster that need to be addressed – it raises the question of just how quickly the Ravens can recover?
Certainly, with the NFL’s goal of parity in play, teams can rebound quickly, but teams that do so usually have deep rosters that allow them to bounce back quickly. The decision the Ravens will need to make is whether they have the type of roster that will allow them to rebound quickly or if they feel it’s going to take some time to rebuild the roster into that of a Super Bowl contender.
If it is the latter – that it’s going to take some time to rebuild the roster and the roster depth – would the Ravens then be better off purging the roster of their bloated contracts and starting over with next year’s high draft pick (and a decent draft pick in 2017) in hopes of facilitating a roster rebirth and a cleaned up Salary Cap in 2017?
This would essentially be a Salary Cap purge, by which the team would jettison the contracts of players who are no longer worth their deals and attempt to set themselves up for better days in 2017, with a clean Cap to help accelerate the reshaping of the roster.
The Ravens currently have 47 players under contract for 2016 and project (prior to any offseason moves) to have 70 players under contract or tendered and be around $1M OVER the Salary Cap (assuming a $153M Salary Cap).
As such, they’ve got some offseason work to do. Chief among those matters is a contract extension for QB Joe Flacco that will, depending on the terms, likely create somewhere between $6-10M in much needed Salary Cap space.
But, by itself, that won’t be enough. Below is a chart showing the cost of releasing certain players who may be on the chopping block.
It seems likely that DE Chris Canty and CB Kyle Arrington are probably not going to be back. Neither is terribly expensive, but there is plenty of depth along the D-line to replace Canty and Arrington already saw his playing time decrease this season.
Releasing those 2 would create $3.583M in additional Cap space.
Those seem easy.
But, what if the Ravens decide to be bold and try and clean up their Cap? It’s not like they haven’t been willing to release long-term, fan favorites before. Whether it was (1) the 2002 Cap purge that saw 11 starters released or (2) the 2011 releases of Todd Heap, Derrick Mason and Kelly Gregg or (3) the 2013 trade of WR Anquan Boldin, the Ravens’ brass has never been one to let sentimentality get in the way of football decisions.
So, what if they decided to clean up their Cap by jettison some of the more problematic contracts?
As shown on the chart above, the problematic contracts are those with the larger amounts of dead money that still need to be dealt with (Monroe, Webb, Pitta, Suggs). Those are the ones that are likely to continue to haunt them unless those players get healthy and start producing up to their former levels.
Added to the $3.583M from Canty and Arrington, and they’ve created $14.411M.
Add in $8M (est.) from a Flacco restructure and then they would sit at $22.411M in newfound cap space.
Then comes Terrell Suggs. Releasing him on the heels of the aforementioned moves would clearly qualify as a Cap purge. Given the amount of dead money, releasing Suggs prior to June 1 isn’t really practical. Releasing Suggs with a post-June 1 designation, though, would be a way to create additional 2016 Cap savings, but because a player released after June 1 (or prior with one of the team’s two post-June 1 designation) stays on the team’s Salary Cap until June 2, the $4.5M in Cap savings isn’t realized until then. That would be OK, though, because that newly realized Cap space could be earmarked for the signing of rookies and/or to be part of the Cap space needed to be carried into the season for injury replacements.
The drawback to a post-June 1 transaction would be that it would push dead money into 2017, but with all of the other problem contracts already dealt with, pushing $5.9M of dead money into 2017 wouldn’t be a horrible thing and would be an acceptable price for clearing up the team’s Salary Cap.
(However, if the Ravens didn’t want to go that route, they could conceivably release Suggs prior to June 1 and take the extra $1.4M in dead money in 2016 to clear Suggs off of the books for good. While taking $8.85M in dead money on like that certainly isn’t ideal, if the purpose is to clear up your Cap for the future, it can be justified.)
With all of that done, the Ravens would ideally have Flacco restructured into a contract that has a more flat, Cap-friendly structure and all other big, problematic contracts purged from their Salary Cap.
Such a purge would again create a sizeable amount of dead money ($26M+) against the Cap in 2016, but it may be preferable to taking it all (or most of it, in the case of Suggs) in 2016, so as to emerge in 2017 with a much better future Cap outlook.
For 2016, it would leave the team with 61 players under contract or tendered and, after Rule of 51 adjustments, the team would have a little over $17.5M in Salary Cap space headed into the free agent period in March (plus another $4.5M after June 1 from Suggs’ release). That $17.5M could be used to re-sign PK Justin Tucker and possibly G/T Kelechi Osemele. It would also give them some extra Cap space to pursue help at other positions.
To be clear, the thought isn’t that this is what the Ravens SHOULD do, but it is a valid consideration.
It would be a bold move and would mean saying goodbye to a lot of players who are considered to be fan favorites and leaders on the team.
But, the hope would be that with a cleaned up Cap and an infusion of young talent via a solid draft or two, the team could emerge in 2017 with a much stronger roster and a much brighter Salary Cap outlook.