The Ravens have some financial flexibility to make improvements to their roster this offseason.
However, they will have to spend wisely.
General manager Eric DeCosta currently has about $28.6 million to spend with the salary cap, according to RSR’s Cap Expert Brian McFarland. However, the Ravens rank 22nd among all NFL teams as far as money to spend.
Comparably, the Indianapolis Colts have the most funds available under the cap with $91.8 million, followed by the Miami Dolphins ($91.4 million), Buffalo Bills ($81.8 million), Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($81.5 million) and the Dallas Cowboys ($79.5 million), according to the latest figures by Over the Cap.
It’s parity at its best because of those teams with the most money to spend, only the Bills made the playoffs this past season. Around the AFC North, the Cleveland Browns have the most money with $50.7 million in available funds, followed by the Cincinnati Bengals ($49.3 million), Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers ($1.4 million), who rank 30th behind the Vikings and Jaguars.
Now, most teams will create more space prior to free agency by releasing players, extending contracts and/or restructuring deals. For example, the Ravens can can create more financial flexibility by releasing several veterans, including safety Tony Jefferson ($7 million in savings), offensive lineman James Hurst ($2.75 million) and cornerback Brandon Carr ($7 million).
There will be fierce competition in the free-agent market. Some of the top names that might intrigue the Ravens include Chiefs defensive end Chris Jones, Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper, Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Buccaneers linebacker Shaq Barrett, Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green.
All of those players will be coveted by other teams.
In addition, the Ravens need to consider re-signing several of their pending unrestricted free agents, especially with their front seven — an area that needs improvement. Linebackers Josh Bynes, Matthew Judon, Anthony Levine Sr., Pernell McPhee and Patrick Onwuasor are each eligible for free agency. Defensive tackles Justin Ellis, Domata Peko, Michael Pierce and Jihad Ward can also hit the open market.
Keeping several of these players is a main priority this offseason, especially Judon, who led the team with 9.5 sacks last season. Judon also ranked fourth in the NFL with 33 quarterback hits.
Linebacker Za’Darius Smith, who was the Ravens’ sack leader in 2018, tested the free-agent market and signed a four-year, $66 million deal the Green Bay Packers. Judon might command a similar contract and the franchise tag could cost the team just over $16 million.
“Our goal will be to have Matt back. That’s what we’ll try to do,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “And you can go through all the other guys, too, if you want to talk about them. ‘Peanut’ [Patrick Onwuasor] is another guy. Who else? Pierce, we’ll do our best with that one. It just depends what the market ends up saying.
“Once you get past the season and guys get to this point, usually, it becomes everybody wants to know … The player wants to know what the market is going to be. So, we’ll see what the market is and see what we can do.”
There’s no secret surrounding some of the team’s most glaring needs at linebacker/pass rusher, wide receiver and on the offensive line. The Ravens will look to fill those gaps through free-agency, the draft and trades. Harbaugh knows the team need to make some moves to get past the previous two years of playoff frustration.
“It is going to take scheme, and it is going to take roster improvement,” Harbaugh said. “Our scheme and our roster helped us to be the very best we could be this year, under the circumstances. If you step back and look at the big picture, what we have been able to do as an organization – starting with [president] Dick [Cass] and then [executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome] and Eric and his group, and [owner] Steve Bisciotti overseeing and directing us – it has been pretty darn remarkable.”
There has been a growing sense of optimism at the Ravens practice facility since the shocking loss to the Titans in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. Harbaugh is happy with the resources moving forward. With Lamar Jackson at quarterback and two seasons under his belt, the Ravens have an edge over the competition.
“What we have been able to build with the guys that we have had and get the most out of our players [is impressive]. So, let’s take that and move forward,” Harbaugh said. “That gives me a lot of confidence where we are going forward. We have a few more resources in front of us right now. We have good draft resources; we have great cap resources that we haven’t had in the past.”