The NFL trading deadline came and passed at 4PM yesterday and to no one’s surprise the Ravens did nothing. The collective passiveness of the Ravens organization brought another of its weaknesses to the forefront – cap management.
While other teams have the flexibility to make maneuvers to help compete in the watered-down NFL where practically any team not named the Browns has a shot at the playoffs, the Ravens are handcuffed by a lack of cap space that forces them to sit on the sidelines and watch other teams get better.
The Ravens will often say that unlike some teams, they spend to the cap. They wear it like a badge of honor as if to say, “We aren’t cheap!” And they aren’t. But neither is the fashion-conscious millennial who has maxed out his or her credit card. And essentially, that’s what the Ravens have done with their cap.
So why is it that the Ravens are seemingly perpetually bumping up against the cap?
It starts with the draft!
Ozzie Newsome & Company earned the reputation as being among the league’s best front offices on draft day. Yet for years, they seem to be living on reputation – one that has faded. A once shining star that barely twinkles every now and then.
Since 2009, the Ravens have been in a long slump as it relates to drafting playmakers. During this time, they’ve drafted 68 players. Only two have been honored as a Pro Bowl players – C.J. Mosley and Kyle Juszczyk. We all know how the Ravens typically shoot air balls when drafting wide receivers, the most recent of which is Breshad Perriman who has just 4 catches for 26 yards and no touchdowns in 2017. To put that in perspective, reserve RB Danny Woodhead had more receiving yards (33) during the Ravens initial drive of the season than Perriman has in all of 2017.
The only receiver the Ravens haven’t completely whiffed on is Torrey Smith, yet they determined that the former Terp wasn’t quite good enough (and rightly so) for the rich contract the 49ers ponied up.
A look at the team’s second and third round picks since 2009 produces a list like this:
Save for Webb, the decent to good players from this list have all departed, in part because the Ravens couldn’t afford to keep them OR, their “right player, right price” mantra was heavily influenced by the lack of availability on their credit (salary cap) line.
All of these draft day whiffs puts pressure on the cap. Of course, bloated contracts to under-performing players (for one reason or another), such as Ray Rice, Joe Flacco and Eugene Monroe, certainly don’t help.
But these misses on draft day force the team to look for somewhat productive veterans who might represent bargains, lightening the load on the cap. Sometimes it works, as in the cases of Anquan Boldin, Derek Mason and Steve Smith, Sr. Sometimes it doesn’t as in the cases of Michael Huff and Kendrick Lewis. And on the heels of those free agent duds, comes dead money. It adds up, further draining the cap.
If 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam and 2014 third-round pick Terrence Brooks had worked out at safety, even remotely playing to the level of their respective draft statuses, money spent on Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson could have been used elsewhere.
Or maybe that money might even be available for the trading deadline.
The salary cap is the lifeblood of the NFL. Managing it properly is critical to long-term success. The draft is directly tied to such proper management. That’s where the cheap labor is found and it’s no coincidence that Joe Flacco’s greatest success – and the Ravens for that matter, came when he played under his rookie contract. It was then that Ozzie could surround their developing franchise quarterback with talent.
But all of those Chris Davis-like plate appearances on draft day, coupled with bloated contracts, prevents the Ravens from being trade participants or as a potential contestant for the likes of a player like Alshon Jeffrey.
And then of course there are those dreaded injuries, which not only deplete depth, they force the team to spend in order to replenish the roster. Even then the salary cap has been an issue. It has forced the Ravens to restructure contracts in order to create cap space just to hire some unemployed players off the league’s scrap heap. In doing so, the Ravens have worsened their cap position in 2018 and 2019 by $4.2M per season.
It’s a vicious cycle really and one that won’t end until the Ravens get better on draft day and stop shelling out record contracts to under-performing players.
For years many trumpeted the credo, “In Ozzie We Trust”.
They called Baltimore, “The Land of Oz”.
Unfortunately, that neighborhood ain’t what it used to be.