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However the Baltimore Ravens season concludes, expect a roster purge next offseason

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The team has no choice but to get younger and reset the salary cap

Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun

Considering the circumstances last offseason, the risks that the Baltimore Ravens front office took were completely logical. It made perfect sense to rally around the aging warhorses for one last attempt at a championship run before they rode off into the sunset. While a lack of depth at several crucial positions and reliance on older players has backfired during the team’s four game losing streak, the Ravens are still in contention for the AFC North division.

However, whether the Ravens win the Super Bowl or fail to win another game this season, the roster will need to be purged of veteran contracts this offseason in order to adequately reload the roster for future seasons. The team has too much money tied up in injury prone veterans who are underperforming in relation to their cap charges.

The final nine games of the 2016 season will serve as an evaluation period for many of the Baltimore Ravens most popular players. Looking ahead to next offseason, it is best to divide the Ravens personnel by tiers...

Keepers:

  • QB Joe Flacco - $24.6 million cap charge, $47.3 million in dead money
  • CB Jimmy Smith - $12.6 million cap charge, $12.3 million in dead money
  • RG Marshal Yanda - $9.1 million cap charge, $9.3 million in dead money
  • SS Eric Weddle - $5.8 million cap charge, $5.3 million in dead money
  • K Justin Tucker - $4.3 million cap charge, $7.3 million in dead money
  • P Sam Koch - $3.1 million cap charge, $2.4 million in dead money

The Ravens three highest cap hits in 2017 all belong to belong to players who restructured or extended their contracts in 2016. Releasing or trading any of these three players would be counter productive in creating cap space. The cost of replacing these players is much greater than the potential savings.

Bubble Contracts:

  • WR Mike Wallace - $5.8 million in cap savings
  • Terrell Suggs - $1.1 million in cap savings

These two veterans can help the Ravens in 2017, but are not guaranteed to be playing in Baltimore next year. Wallace’s contract structure was heavily backloaded, his cap charge jumps from $3.5 million to $8 million next year. Suggs most recent contract restructure was somewhat team friendly, his cap number decreases to under $7 million next season. The production Suggs still provides against the run and pass, along with his intangibles, may make him worth the price tag if he decides against retirement.

Likley to be Released:

  • OLB Elvis Dumervil - $6 million in cap savings
  • FS Lardarius Webb - $5.5 million in cap savings
  • TE Dennis Pitta - $3.3 million in cap savings
  • TE Ben Watson - $3 million in cap savings
  • CB Shareece Wright - $2.7 million in cap savings
  • C Jeremy Zuttah - $2.4 million in cap savings
  • CB Kyle Arrington - $2.1 million in cap savings
  • SS Kendrick Lewis - $1.8 million in cap savings

Dumervil, Webb, Watson, Arrington and Lewis have not produced an impact commensurate with their contracts, and are almost assured to be cut. Pitta, Wright and Zuttah have more reasonable contracts compared to their contributions, but have been wildly inconsistent. A decision to purge all eight of these contract from the team’s payroll would create an additional $26.8 million net value in new cap space for 2017.

Notable pending Free Agents:

  • NT Brandon Williams
  • RT Ricky Wagner
  • LB/S Anthony Levine
  • FB Kyle Juszczyk
  • WR Steve Smith
  • CB Will Davis
  • WR Kamar Aiken
  • SS Matt Elam
  • QB Ryan Mallett
  • CB Jerraud Powers
  • DE Lawrence Guy
  • ILB Zach Orr (restricted)
  • RB Terrance West (restricted)
  • C Ryan Jensen (restricted)

A large portion of the Ravens approximate $14 million in current cap space for 2017 will probably be offered to Williams, since he is one of the team’s top players. Orr and West have performed and are also likely to be retained, since the Ravens have an option to exercise the restricted free agent tender. The other players on the list may or may not be offered contracts by the Ravens, depending on how the play down the stretch this season.

If the Ravens do indeed purge the contracts in the “likely to be released” section, they will have about $40 million in total cap space at the beginning of free agency. This would place the Ravens near the median in terms of cap space for all 32 teams, before the other teams decide to release any of their players for cap purposes. The league wide salary cap should increase yet again, but each team will benefit from the additional cap room.

Conclusion:

This breakdown is merely bye week fodder, and should not be interpreted as a suggestion to give up on the 2016 season. This early offseason outlook was designed to help the fans identify which players to monitor closely and evaluate for the remainder of this season.

A full blown rebuild resulting in a young roster can be exciting and provide hope for the future. No matter the end result in 2016, the Baltimore Ravens can turn their fortunes around quickly in this parity driven league. Any reversal in the direction of a franchise is dependent upon shrewd decisions in free agency and excellent drafting.

Real fans follow their teams through good times and bad