Salary Cap Why are Ravens Always in Cap Trouble?

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Recently, the Ravens seem to have a lot of problems with the Salary Cap. Do you think the Ravens need a new capologist??

ANSWER:  The Ravens had a very clean Salary Cap from 2003 to 2011.  They spent to the Cap in those years, but never really had Cap “issues.” Things changed in 2011, though, when the new CBA rolled the Salary Cap back by roughly $11M (from essentially $132M to $121M). Whether that was a foreseeable reduction remains to be seen, but the Ravens, along with several other teams (Steelers included) were put into a very difficult Salary Cap spot. The Ravens were then hit with some other issues that they probably couldn’t have been expected to anticipate, most notably Ray Rice’s legal problems.

Because of these issues, the team was then forced to structure deals that kept the Cap numbers of the early years of a deal low, while substantially backloading the deal with very high Cap numbers. This helped them balance their Cap in the early years of some contracts, but forced them to have to pay the piper in the later years of some of those deals (see trading Haloti Ngata in 2015).

Thankfully, more recently, they’ve been able to flatten out those deals as far as structure goes, which mean far less of a swing between the early and later year Cap numbers. This generally should mean that those deals are less likely to cause problems in the future.

There have also been a number of other recent contracts that have come back to bite them (Webb, Pitta), but the question remains of who is truly responsible for those deals. Obviously, Pat Moriarty is largely responsible for negotiating those deals, but the totals and structure have to be approved by GM Ozzie Newsome. So, as far as who is to blame, it’s probably a bit of both (along with some bad luck).

The good news is that a lot of the deals that have caused some of the problems (Webb, Pitta, Dumervil) will be coming off of the Cap after the 2017 season, which should give the Ravens a much cleaner Cap in 2018. Which brings us to…

How does the Ravens 2018 Salary Cap look? Is there any end in sight to their repeated Cap issues?

ANSWER:  It’s a little too early to tell, but it looks like the Ravens should be in much better shape Cap-wise in 2018.  A real projection won’t be able to be made until after free agency and the draft. At that point, the contracts for the newly signed and drafted players can be factored in and 2018 will come into much better focus. One thing for sure, though, is that a lot of the contracts that have become problematic over the last couple of years will no longer be in the Cap.

The contracts of Kyle Arrington, Kendrick Lewis, Elvis Dumervil, Lardarius Webb, Ben Watson and Mike Wallace will expire after the 2017 season. Many of those guys may well not even be on the team in a couple of weeks, but either way, those contracts will certainly be gone in 2018. And, if Dennis Pitta, Jeremy Zuttah and/or Shareece Wright are released this offseason, there will likely be no lasting Cap implications that will hit the 2018 Cap (unless they are processed post-June 1).

Have the team’s poor drafts from 2012-2015 factored into their Cap issues?

ANSWER:  Most definitely, YES.  Your draft picks (and UDFAs) are your cheap labor that help you balance your Salary Cap and allow you to re-sign pending free agents you don’t want to lose. This is especially true with the new rookie wage scale that was instituted by the 2011 CBA that has even made the cost of 1st round picks much more reasonable.

As far as its effect on the Ravens’ Salary Cap, look no further than the Safety position to see its impact. The Ravens drafted Matt Elam in the 1st round of the 2013 draft and Terrence Brooks in the 3rd round of the 2014 draft. By 2016 (if not sooner), it was certainly reasonable to think that a 1st round pick and a 3rd round pick should have been the starting Safeties. Instead, the Ravens had to go out and sign a free agent in Eric Weddle (4 yrs/$26M) and convert Webb to Safety (after signing Kendrick Lewis the year before to start).

The combined Cap numbers of Elam and Brooks in 2016 would have been a little less than $2M. Instead, the combined Cap numbers for Weddle, Webb and Lewis was ~$16M. The 2017 numbers from Elam and Brooks would have been higher (~6.4M) because the Ravens would have exercised his 5th year option, but that is still far less than the combined numbers for Weddle and Webb (~$13.5M).

In fact, while we’ll obviously never know, the huge difference in Cap space between what it would have cost to have Elam/Brooks as the starters (versus Weddle/Webb) may very well have be enough to allow the Ravens to have re-sign free agent Guard Kelechi Osemele.

So, yes, the poor drafting can have a very real, meaningful effect on the Salary Cap.

If they want to, how much Cap space can the Ravens reasonably create this year with cuts? And who goes?

ANSWER:  It all depends on just how deeply the Ravens feel they need to cut and just how much Cap space they want to free up.  At a minimum, by releasing Arrington, Lewis, Dumervil, and Watson, the Ravens can create close to $11.5M in net Cap space (net = savings from release less cost of Rule of 51 replacement, ~$500K). Releasing Webb would net another $5M. Releasing Pitta would create ~$2.8M in net savings ($5M, if after June 1). Others would add more – Wallace (~$5.25M), Wright (~$2.2M) and Zuttah (~$1.9M). If all 9 of those players are released, the Ravens would create a net Cap savings of ~$28.5M. While unlikely, they could create even more if they processed some (Pitta, Wright, Zuttah) of those transactions as post-June 1 releases.

At this time, the Ravens – prior to making any roster moves (re-signings, releases) – project to have somewhere between $5M-$7.7M in Cap space, depending on what RFA tenders they make.  So, over and above that, it all depends on just how far the Ravens want to go to create Cap space and, while it’s unlikely that they will release all 9 of those players, they certainly have options to do so.

One caveat, though, is that the more of those players that are released, the more roster spots that need to be filled, and with a bunch of roster holes already to be filled, the team may not be as willing as many fans are to jettison certain players.

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Brian McFarland

About Brian McFarland

Known on Ravens Message Boards as "B-more Ravor", Brian is a life-long Baltimorean and an avid fan of the Ravens and all Baltimore sports. A PSL holder since 1998, Brian has garnered a reputation as a cap-guru because of his strange (actually warped) desire to wade through the intricacies of the NFL's salary cap and actually make sense of it for those of us who view it as inviting as IRS Tax Code. Brian, who hails from Catonsville, MD and still resides there, is married and has two children. More from Brian McFarland

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