While it’s not even March yet, new Ravens GM Eric DeCosta has already gotten an early start and has made 3 significant roster moves aimed towards reshaping the 2019 roster. More moves certainly await, but it’s already abundantly clear that the tight Salary Caps of the past will not be an issue this year. With that in mind, the following is a projection of the Ravens’ 2019 Salary Cap status.
PLAYERS UNDER CONTRACT
The Ravens currently have the following 54 players under contract for 2019 (with Cap Numbers indicated):
FBs (1): Christopher Ezeala ($495K)
OL (9): Marshal Yanda ($10.125M); Ronnie Stanley ($6.518M); James Hurst ($4.75M); Alex Lewis ($2.142M); Orlando Brown ($843K); Greg Senat ($599K); Bradley Bozeman ($599K); OT Randin Crecelius ($495K); G Kofi Amichia
LBs (9): Matt Judon ($2.084M); Tyus Bowser ($1.521M); Tim Williams ($904K); Bam Bradley ($646K); Kenny Young ($730K); CJ Board ($571K); Matthew Thomas ($570K); Ejuan Price ($570K); Alvin Jones ($495K)
CBs (10): Jimmy Smith ($15.851M); Brandon Carr ($7M); Tavon Young ($3.671M); Marlon Humphrey ($3.231M); Cyrus Jones ($996K); Maurice Canady ($745K); Anthony Averett ($735K); Jaylen Hill ($645K); Jackson Bennett ($495K), Robertson Daniel ($495K)
The above 54 players are under contract for a total Rule of 51 Salary Cap commitment (which includes dead money from players no longer on the team) of $169,384,776. (See: 2019 Salary Cap Spreadsheet). This number includes the $4.667M in Cap savings from the recent release of WR Michael Crabtree, but does not yet include the $10.5M in Cap savings that will be realized with the Joe Flacco trade becomes official on March 13th.
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 somewhere between $187-191M (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 be on the high end of that range. For the purposes of this projection, though, we will use the middle of that range – $189M – for our projection and hope that this will provide the lower end of the Ravens Cap prospects.
So, using the figure of $189M for the estimated Cap, the Ravens will initially have around $19.615M in Cap space, accounting for the 54 players that are presently under contract.
PRACTICE SQUAD FREE AGENTS (FAs)
The Ravens usually re-sign most of their Practice Squad players to “Future” contracts for the following year. So far this year, they have already done so with 8 of the former Practice Squad players. WR Tim White signed with the NY Jets instead and WR Janarion Grant and OT Jake Rodgers still remain unsigned.
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 finished the 2018 season with $4,504,955 available Cap space and have carried that amount over into 2019. This will increase the Ravens available 2019 Cap space by that amount. Once this number is added to the league-wide Salary Cap, the Ravens’ Cap space will increase up to $24.120M.
The trade of QB Joe Flacco will not be official until after 4:00 on Wednesday, March 13th. Once it becomes official, Flacco’s Cap number of $26.5M will be reduced down to $16M, which will remain on the Cap as dead money. The end result of Flacco’s trade will be a $10.5M in Cap savings for the Ravens.
Adding in the Flacco Cap savings brings the Ravens Cap space to close to $35M, which is a number that is being talked about a lot at this time. However, that is an incomplete number and does not accurately reflect where the Ravens will likely be when the new league year begins on March 13th because there are several other important Salary Cap factors that are not yet included in that number. Those factors are going to take a sizeable chunk out of that $35M Cap space.
Those factors are explained below.
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 total 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. At present, it is known that Willie Snead ($2.2M), John Brown ($1.2M), Brent Urban ($1M), Eric Weddle ($1M) and Anthony Levine ($100K) earned NLTBE incentives in 2018 and those will count as negative adjustments against the 2019 Cap. There may be some other minor adjustments – both positive and negative – but the final number should remain in the $5.5M range. This number is a product of tight Salary Caps and the need to fit players under those tight Caps. In future years, with a cleaner Cap expected, the need to use such incentives should lessen.
PROVEN PERFORMANCE ESCALATOR: 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 1st 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, only Young (who has since signed a contract extension), Lewis and Judon earned the PPE and, as such, they will see their base salary jump from $720K to approximately $2.023M (if the Salary Cap is set at $189M). Chris Moore missed out on earning the PPE by only four offensive snaps and Willie Henry would most likely have earned the PPE if he hadn’t spent most of the year on Injured Reserve. 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 – $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 a certainty that the Ravens use RFA tenders on Onwuasor and Pierce. As undrafted free agents coming out of college, both will likely receive the 2nd round tender; otherwise the Ravens would only have the right to match, with no draft compensation if they chose not to.
As they have at times in the past, it seems likely that they do not tender Jean-Baptiste, but may perhaps try and sign him to a lesser contract. Given his drop off in product, Collins may also be a non-tender and re-sign candidate, but for the purposes of this projection, Collins will be given the low RFA tender. If Collins is non-tendered, that will mean the Ravens will have an additional $1.5M in Cap space.
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 $187.328M. The team’s Adjusted Cap consists of the projected league-wide Salary Cap of $189M, plus the carryover of the 2018 excess Cap space of $4.505M, less adjustments for workout bonuses ($676,800) and the incentives adjustment (est. to be $5.5M).
Presently, the Ravens have 54 players under contract, but assuming they tender all of their RFAs (except Jean-Baptiste) and ERFAs, they will eventually have 62 players under contract or tendered.
During the offseason, though, when roster 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 $166.870M. See the “2019 Projected Cap” tab here.
When compared with the team’s Adjusted Cap of $187.328M, this would leave the Ravens projected to just under $20.457M under the Salary Cap. Pending other roster moves, this number is the truer indication of what the Ravens Cap space will look like on March 13th.
Again, this estimate is made before the Ravens make any additional roster moves to shape their 2019 roster. This is just a starting point, but unlike past years, it shows that the Ravens have far more Cap flexibility than in past years – and with the ability the create even more Cap space.
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 CJ Mosley. It is anticipated that the franchise tag for Linebackers will be over $15M 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. As such, if they want to retain Mosley, they will need to re-sign him prior to March 13th. That said, he won’t be cheap.
2019 DRAFT PICKS
The Ravens are expected to have 8 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 also now hold Denver’s 4th round pick (Flacco trade), Tennessee’s 6th round pick (Kamalei Correa) and, as expected, have received a 3rd round Compensatory pick for last offseason’s loss of Center Ryan Jensen.
It is also conceivable that the Ravens could pick up an additional draft pick or two if they decide to trade other veterans like Jimmy Smith and Eric Weddle.
Based on their present draft position, the Ravens will likely have a rookie Cap of somewhere between $6-7M depending on what picks they actually make (since they often make multiple draft day trades). While that number won’t factor into their initial Cap calculations, it is something that the team will budget for 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 2019 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. The 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. GM Eric DeCosta also recently mentioned locking up some of the team’s younger players before they reach free agency. Extensions for those players will not create any additional Cap space and will actually use up available Cap space, but locking up players like LB Matthew Judon, OT Ronnie Stanley, LB Patrick Onwuasor and/or DT Michael Pierce may be a wise idea and ultimately prove to be a bargain down the road.
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 your 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.
SMITH: Given Smith’s age (31 when next season starts), his troubled injury and suspension history, and the large amount of Cap savings from his release, Smith is a prime candidate to be cut. While Smith is still a solid player, it seems unlikely that the Ravens are going to pay him $9.5M in cash (his base salary). There is also the possibility the Ravens and Smith can agree to a pay cut to keep Smith around for another year, but at a lesser salary. If that fails, the Ravens could also look to trade Smith, as they did with Anquan Boldin in 2013 and Haloti Ngata in 2015.
WEDDLE: Based on his play on the field, Weddle would also seen like a prime candidate for release, especially given the $7.5M in Cap savings. However, Weddle’s leadership in the secondary – and the overall defense, for that matter – may just be enough to convince the Ravens of the need for his return. Like Jimmy Smith, Weddle could also be approached about a taking pay cut, but his most recent statements may be an indication that the parties aren’t exactly seeing eye-in-eye on Weddle’s value.
SNEAD: Snead seems to be the veteran WR who is most likely to return, but due to the $2.2M increase in his Cap number based on him earning 2018 incentives (thus increasing his Cap number by $2.2M since his 2019 incentives are now treated as Likely To Be Earned incentives), the higher Cap number ($7.2M) may make him more vulnerable to being cut.
WILLIAMS: Given that the Ravens have restructured his deal twice over the 1st two (2) years of his new contract, the cost to release Williams is simply too high. This is the perfect example of the consequence of restructuring contracts.
JEFFERSON: Jefferson is pretty much in the same boat as Williams, although there is at least some Cap savings if the Ravens decided to release him.
CARR: Heading into the season, Carr being released this offseason seemed like a foregone conclusion. Then Smith got suspended and Carr stepped in admirably. So, after putting in a very solid season, it seems likely that Carr will return.
RESTRUCTURE: The main drawbacks of constantly restructuring contracts is that it often becomes a vicious cycle that causes the team to continue and continue to restructure deals year after year.
In recent years, the Ravens have been stuck in this cycle and have created some bloated Cap numbers (Williams, Jefferson) that aren’t easy to get away from.
That said, if the Ravens make some of the above cuts, there should be no need to restructure any contracts this year.
For the first time in years, the Ravens project to have a substantial amount of Salary Cap space and have the ability to create more if they so choose.
For example, the release or trade of CB Jimmy Smith and Eric Weddle would increase the above Cap space by $17M. Clearly, the Ravens have more flexibility than they’ve had in close to a decade. This flexibility should allow the Ravens to address their roster needs and allow them to re-sign some of their own before they hit free agency.
As always, there’s never a dull moment and the months of March and April will once again be an interesting time for the Ravens.