With the Ravens arriving at their Bye week with a disappointing 4-5 record, this article comes too early again this year. But, with a tough remaining schedule, it seems that significant change is on the horizon for the Ravens this offseason, very likely including a change of the head coach and coaching staff.
While there still is a chance that the Ravens can rally and make a playoff run, it seems more the inevitable that the balance of the season will become a chance for the front office, and ascending General Manager Eric DeCosta, to evaluate the roster for the future.
So, with that in mind, here’s your look at the Ravens’ 2019 Free Agency and Salary Cap status:
PLAYERS UNDER CONTRACT
The Ravens presently have the following 45 players under contract for 2019 (with Cap Numbers indicated):
RBs (1): Kenneth Dixon ($807K)
The above 45 players are under contract for a total Salary Cap commitment (which includes dead money from players no longer on the team) of $162,026,443. (Link to 2019 Salary Cap Spreadsheet).
Initial projections indicate that the 2019 Salary Cap is expected to see roughly the same increase in the Cap as in recent years, jumping the Cap up to around $188M (up from this year’s $177.2M Cap). These initial projections by the NFL Management Council have historically been on the lower end, so the Cap may well increase to over $188M. For the purposes of this projection, though, we will use the $188M projection and hope that this will provide the lower end of the Ravens Cap prospects.
So, using the figure of $188M for the estimated Cap, the Ravens will initially have around $25.973M in Cap space, accounting for the 45 players presently under contract.
This will be the basis for early reports on the status of the Ravens’ Salary Cap, and sounds great, but it’s important to keep in mind that this number is based only on the 45 players that are presently under contract and nowhere near representative of the team’s Cap with a full roster and with the other factors that will be explained below.
So, between now and Wednesday, March 13th at 4:00 p.m., when the new league year and free agency begins, the Ravens will definitely have some work to do.
PRACTICE SQUAD FREE AGENTS (FAs)
The Ravens have usually re-signed most of their Practice Squad players to “Future” contracts for the following year.
The 11 players from the Practice Squad are:
Most of these players will likely be re-signed to one-year contracts of $495K, but some, because they already have a credited season (or two), will receive base salaries of $570K or $645K.
2018 SALARY CAP CARRYOVER
Under the terms of the CBA, teams are now allowed to carry over excess Salary Cap space from one year to the next. The Ravens presently have around $4.8M in available Cap space, so barring a rash of major injuries, they will likely be able to carry most of that into 2019. This will increase the Ravens available 2019 Cap space by that amount.
OTHER SALARY CAP ADJUSTMENTS
WORKOUT BONUS ADJUSTMENT: All teams will have an adjustment of $676,800 added to their Cap for team workout bonuses. This number is essentially the total amount of CBA mandated workout bonuses that could be earned by the players in the offseason. This amount is a debit from the Cap. Once training camp begins, this debit will be removed and the actual amount of workout bonuses earned by the players will be added onto the Cap.
INCENTIVE ADJUSTMENTS: The Ravens’ 2019 Cap will also see adjustments for incentives earned that didn’t count against the 2018 Cap (“Not Likely To Be Earned” incentives) that were actually earned and incentives that did count against the 2018 Cap (“Likely To Be Earned” incentives) but weren’t earned.
Over the last few years, the Ravens have often used NLTBE incentives as a way of lessening the present year’s Cap number, especially in years with tighter Caps.
The incentives contained in player contracts are usually not widely reported, so the amount of these incentive adjustments is usually not disclosed until the beginning of the 2019 league year in March.
Over the past five years, the Ravens have averaged closed to $4M in negative adjustments, due mostly to NLTBE incentives that were earned in the prior year.
PROVEN PERFORMANCE ESCALATOR: The 2011 CBA mandated 4-year contracts for all draft picks, which eliminated a player’s chance to receive the higher paying RFA tender in their 4th year. To offset this, the new CBA implemented the Proven Performance Escalator (PPE), which allows lower draft picks (3rd through 7th rounds) to receive an upgrade salary that is equivalent to the low RFA tender if the player performed well over the first 3 years of his contract. The player’s “performance” is measured by playing time, so the escalator is earned if the player either (1) plays in 35% of offensive or defensive snaps in 2 of the player’s first 3 seasons or (2) plays in 35% of the cumulative snaps over his first 3 seasons.
The Ravens currently have 7 players drafted in 2016 who are still playing under the terms of their rookie contracts – CB Tavon Young, WR Chris Moore, G Alex Lewis, DT Willie Henry, RB Kenneth Dixon, OLB Matt Judon and CB Maurice Canady.
Of those players, Young, Moore, Lewis, Henry and Judon are all in line to earned the PPE and will see their base salary jump from $720K to approximately $2.023M. Do keep in mind, though, that the PPE is not guaranteed, so if the player is released or traded, the PPE will have zero effect on the team’s Salary Cap.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS (ERFAs)
These players must be tendered contracts of the league minimum, based on the player’s length of service in the league ($645K, $570K or $495K). Once tendered, these players are fully under the team’s control and are not free to negotiate with other teams.
The Ravens have 6 players who are Exclusive Rights Free Agents (ERFAs):
In past years, because of the minimal cost and minimal impact on the Salary Cap, the Ravens usually tendered all of their ERFAs.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (RFAs)
These are players whose contracts have expired and who have 3 years of accrued service time. The team must tender the player with an RFA offer. Once tendered, another team can sign the player to a RFA offer sheet, but the Ravens then have 7 days to match that offer sheet and retain the player under the terms of that offer sheet. If the Ravens were to choose not to match the offer sheet, they would then receive compensation based on the level of RFA tender made to the player.
There are 3 RFA tenders: 1st Round Tender, 2nd Round Tender and the Low Tender.
* 1st Round Tender: allows the team to receive compensation of a 1st round pick – $4.402M (est)
* 2nd Round Tender: allows the team to receive compensation of 2nd round pick – $3.092M (est)
* Low Tender: allows the team to receive compensation of a draft pick equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted or the Right of First Refusal (ROFR) for an undrafted player – $2.023M (est)
The above Tender amounts just estimates at this point. Under the terms of the CBA, the RFA Tender amounts increase at the same rate as the overall Salary Cap, with the minimum increase being 5%. An increase in the Salary Cap from $177.2M to $188M would represent an 6.09% increase in the Cap, so the above estimates for the RFA tenders are based on that 6.09% increase.
The Ravens have 4 players who are pending Restricted Free Agents (RFAs), with their draft pick compensation:
It is likely that the Ravens use RFA tenders on Collins, Onwuasor and Pierce. As they have at times in the past, it seems likely that they do not tender Jean-Baptiste, but will try and sign him to a lesser contract.
Pierce, as an undrafted free agent coming out of college will definitely receive the 2nd round tender, but it will be interesting to see whether Collins and/or Onwuasor receive the 2nd round tender also or whether the Ravens risk using the low tender on them.
PROJECTED ADJUSTED TEAM CAP AND RULE OF 51 SALARY CAP COMMITMENT
Based on all of the above, it is estimated that the Ravens will have an Adjusted Team Salary Cap of $187.323M. The team’s Adjusted Cap consists of the projected league-wide Salary Cap of $188M, plus the carryover of the 2018 excess Cap space of $4M (estimated), less adjustments for workout bonuses ($676,800) and the incentives adjustment (est. to be $4M).
To reiterate, the Ravens presently have only 45 players under contract, but assuming they tender all of their RFAs (except Jean-Baptiste) and ERFAs, they will eventually have 54 players under contract or tendered. They will likely continue to sign additional players to contracts for 2019.
During the offseason, though, when rosters can balloon to up to 90 players, only the highest 51 Salary Cap numbers (and all 2019 bonus prorations and all dead money from released players) are counted for Salary Cap purposes. This is called the “Rule of 51”.
As such, the Ravens’ estimated Rule of 51 number – including the above factors (including the PPE) and the projected ERFA and RFA tenders – would be a Cap commitment of approximately $171.122M. See the “2019 Projected Cap”.
When compared with the team’s Adjusted Cap of $187.323M, this would project the Ravens to just under $8.789M under the Salary Cap.
Again, this estimate is a worst case scenario and done before the Ravens make any other roster moves. But, it is a starting point and – much like past years – underscores that the team has much work to do to create the Cap space necessary to address their offseason needs.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (UFAs)
The following 11 players are Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs) and will be free to sign with other teams if they haven’t re-signed with the Ravens before Free Agency begins on March 13th at 4:00 p.m.:
At this time, the main question here is whether the Ravens will use the Franchise Tag on LB C.J. Mosley. It is anticipated that the franchise tag for Linebackers will be in the $16-17M range. As much as they might like to retain Mosley, there’s a pretty good chance that that may be too rich for the Ravens and Mosley.
2019 DRAFT PICKS
The Ravens are expected to have 7 draft picks in the 2019 draft. They presently have five (5) of their own round picks (1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th), after having traded their 2nd round pick in the 2018 draft day trade for QB Lamar Jackson and their 7th round pick to Jacksonville in 2017 for Guard Luke Bowanko. The Ravens do presently hold Tennessee’s 6th round pick (Kamalei Correa) and are also expected to receive a 3rd or 4th round Compensatory pick for the 2018 loss of Center Ryan Jensen.
Based on their present draft position, the Ravens will likely have a rookie Cap of somewhere between $6-8M depending on their final record. While that number won’t factor into their initial Cap calculations, it is something that the team will be very mindful of as they otherwise build their roster.
Based on the above, it’s pretty clear that the Ravens are going to have to create additional Salary Cap space in order to be able to re-sign players and/or sign other players to the roster. There are three primary ways of creating additional Salary Cap space – (1) signing players to contract extensions to lessen their 2018 Cap number, (2) releasing/trading players and/or (3) restructuring of contracts.
EXTENSION: An extension is generally used when a player has a large base salary and is in the later years of his contract. An extension will allow the team to turn much of that large base salary (and often, more) into a Signing Bonus to go along with new years added to the contract. This essentially works to reduce the player’s present Cap number. Of course, it takes two to tango and teams and players often don’t see eye to eye on value.
The Ravens really don’t have any ideal extension candidate that will create much in the way of Salary Cap space, but PK Justin Tucker is headed into the last year of his contract in 2019 and it would probably to wise to lock him up for 2020 and beyond.
The below chart lays out the Salary Cap implications of the release or trade (both are treated the same for Cap purposes) of some Ravens players:
As the above chart shows there are different implications to releasing a player prior to June 1 and releasing the player after June 1. Releasing the player before June 1 allows the player to be fully cleared off the books immediately, by taking the enter hit of dead money (the acceleration of bonus money from signing bonuses) in the present year. This generally makes for a smaller amount of Cap savings, but also keeps the release from having any Cap implications in the following season.
Releasing a player after June 1 (or using a June 1 designation on a release prior to June 1), allows for a more sizeable Cap savings, but pushing dead money onto the following year’s Cap. More importantly, though, any Cap savings realized from a post-June 1 release (or a June 1 designation release) is not available until after June 1, so there’s no benefit to such a release in March, at the time when the money is generally needed to sign or re-sign players to build the roster.
The Ravens have historically shied away from releasing players post-June 1. In the past, they have at most used just one post-June 1 release, but it can be a useful tool when a team has a tight Salary Cap.
Needless to say, the Ravens have more than a few candidates for trade or release that can help create a sizeable amount of much-needed Cap space.
RESTRUCTURE: The main drawbacks of constantly restructuring contracts is that it’s often a vicious cycle that causes the team to continue and continue to restructure deals and, depending on what other moves the team does, or does not make, the team may again be forced to restructure deals to create additional needed Cap space.
In recent years, the Ravens have been stuck in this cycle and have created some bloated Cap numbers that aren’t easy to get away from.
That said, if the Ravens make some of the above cuts, which would allow them to create ample Cap room, there should be no need to restructure any contracts this year.
Once again, the Ravens will start the offseason with a lot of work to do and not a lot of initial Salary Cap space. However, this year, they appear to have several players who they may be ready to move on from and the release or trade of those players will create ample Salary Cap space for the team.
For example, the release or trade of CB Jimmy Smith, Safety Eric Weddle and QB Joe Flacco would clear $26.5M in Cap space. Add CB Brandon Carr and that number goes up to $31.5M. It may not be those players in particular, but the Ravens clearly have more flexibility than they have in the past.
The Salary Cap is a puzzle, and the Ravens’ Front Office will likely use a combination of the above maneuvers to create the Cap space necessary to address the team’s pressing roster issues.
But it won’t be easy.
As always, there’s never a dull moment and the months of February, March and April will once again be an interesting time for the Ravens.