The Baltimore Ravens are in an unenviable position this offseason. The roster has an excess of aging veterans, multiple pressing positional needs and a relatively small amount of salary cap space to devote to free agency. The root of these problems goes back several years.
The front office has made their fair share of mistakes: including questionable free agency decisions, ill-advised contract structures and draft day misses. In fairness, their objective of contending for the Super Bowl championship every single season is extremely difficult. And they have been victimized by an inordinate amount of plain bad luck.
As all sustained contenders must in the salary cap era, the Ravens have gambled with unproven depth at certain positions over the last few seasons. Unfortunately, the team has consistently been inflicted with serious injuries at the positions they could least afford them. After Anquan Boldin was traded away in 2013 for salary cap purposes, Dennis Pitta went down with a dislocated hip in training camp, taking away Joe Flacco’s only remaining possession receiver.
The next year, top cornerback Jimmy Smith fractured his foot around midseason, his presence alone could have made the difference in the Ravens back-and-forth divisional round loss to the Patriots that season. Then, defensive focal point Terrell Suggs ruptured his Achilles in Week 1 of the 2015 season, neutering the pass rush. These crucial losses proved too much to overcome.
Making matters worse, the Ravens roster has been harmed by unforeseeable circumstances. Ray Rice’s ability was declining before his ugly domestic violence incident, yet the well-publicized issue caused the Ravens to immediately add a sizable dead money burden onto their salary cap.
Next, Eugene Monroe apparently lost his passion for football two years into a 5-year $37.5 million contract, the team will still be hampered next season by $4.4 million in dead money from his early retirement. Most recently Zachary Orr, one of the Ravens best and most valuable young players, was forced to hang up his cleats due to a congenital spine condition. The opportunity cost of these obstacles has been and will continue to be great.
Combined, these unavoidable, unfortunate injuries and unexpected departures from the organization have compounded the Ravens salary cap problems. They have made the front office’s margin for error in building a championship caliber roster impossibly slim. Any reasonable assessment of Baltimore’s front office must account for this series of unlucky breaks.
Ultimately, football is a results-based business. Baltimore’s upper management may be destined for an overhaul if they fail to reach the postseason for the third straight season in 2017. The Ravens are due for some good luck in the personnel department.