Now that the 2013 NFL season is over for the Ravens, they must start making their preparations for the 2014 NFL season. With those preparations comes the annual dance with the NFL salary cap limit for each team, which has been set this season at over $128 million.
Unlike other teams, the Ravens consistently press themselves up against the cap to ensue the best possible talent on the roster, which ultimately decreases the potential roll over money that some other teams benefit from.
In order to create money to sign draft picks and lure potential free agents, Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens front office are often forced to offload the large cap hits from their older veterans. This past offseason included the Ravens parting ways with Anquan Boldin, Vonta Leach (who was later resigned), Brendon Ayanbadejo, and Bernard Pollard.
The year before, the Ravens released veterans Chris Carr, Domonique Foxworth, and Lee Evans from their contracts. While nearly all of these releases involve dead money (money that the Ravens still owe) that the Ravens have to swallow, the extra cap space is more than justifiable.
So the question presents itself- which veteran cap hits could be offloaded this season?
Releasing a player is not the only way to get rid of a cap hit, as shown by the Ravens trading Anquan Boldin for a 6th round draft choice last offseason. Trading is usually more useful, as the Ravens can control where the player goes, can get something in return, and will not have to deal with potential dead money.
The Ravens already cut two veterans this season- Marcus Spears and Michael Huff. Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, younger talent is much cheaper than older veterans who are often more injury prone.
Right now, the Ravens with the biggest cap hits are Haloti Ngata ($16 million), Joe Flacco ($14.8 million), Terrell Suggs ($12.4 million), Lardarius Webb ($10.5 million), Ray Rice ($8.75 million), and Marshall Yanda ($8.45 million).
Of those six players, Flacco is the only player who is safe beyond a doubt. After that, Webb and Yanda are next safest.
Ray Rice’s stats are frustratingly low this past season (660 rushing yards, 321 receiving yards) and are a far cry from his 2011 self (1,364 rushing yards, 704 receiving yards). Running backs’ careers often come to sudden ends as their talent severely declines due to the hundreds of tackles they take during each season. Rice has also been dealing with a hip injury this season, which could factor into his drop off in production.
Rice struggled this season just like the rest of the offense, leaving it unlikely the Ravens part ways with him this offseason.
Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata pose different challenges, however. Suggs started the season hot, notching 9 sacks in the first 8 games but then only getting 1 sack the rest of the season. This, along with the Ravens depth at outside linebacker consisting of Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw, and John Simon, could spell the end of Suggs’ tenure as a Raven.
Haloti Ngata played well this season, but Arthur Jones, an impending free agent, actually played better. The potential cap room from moving Ngata could be used to retain Jones.
These are tough decisions consisting of talented players and fan favorites. Each move that the Ravens make to maneuver around the cap will have to be carefully thought out to ensure the best outcome.