The Baltimore Ravens are the masters of salary cap manipulation. Although the club has entered most offseasons with scant salary cap space available for use in free agency, the Ravens have managed to stay in contention during the majority of John Harbaugh’s ten year tenure as head coach by navigating the salary cap restrictions. This is quite an accomplishment considering that the Ravens have not drafted as well as usual over the few years, and also because the NFL system is designed for parity with teams encouraged to chase championships and then comprehensively rebuild their rosters.
Unfortunately, this creative cap management has resulted in some negative consequences as well. With a slim margin for error, questionable contracts have resulted in a domino effect of low leverage salary cap positions year after year. When one player with a sizable contract has failed to perform at a level equal to his salary, either through fault of the franchise or due to circumstances out of team control, the dead money on their deal has forced the Ravens to backload their next batch of contracts. Thus, when the salary cap is inflated annually, the Ravens have already earmarked much of the new cap space for existing contracts, while other teams are free to utilize the newfound space to acquire top players at their naturally inflated price tags.
This offseason, the Ravens were able to ink Brandon Williams and Tony Jefferson to fair market value or better contracts, as well as bring in Danny Woodhead and Brandon Carr. There is a downside however to their offseason shopping spree. In order to fit these new contracts under the cap, the front office had to release several costly veterans.
The Ravens currently have the most dead cap in the NFL, at $15.5 million, mostly due to backloaded contracts previously doled out to Eugene Monroe, Shareece Wright, Elvis Dumervil, Jeremy Zuttah and Lardarius Webb. The $15.5 million in wasted cap space could have helped the Ravens retain right tackle Ricky Wagner, or outbid the competition for free agent receivers such as Alshon Jeffery, Pierre Garcon or Terrelle Pryor.
Fortunately, the Ravens should finally be out of the woods next offseason. Unless they restructure existing contracts again, as they did in 2016 with Jimmy Smith and Marshal Yanda, they should have roughy $20 million in disposable cap space for 2018. And their own impending 2018 free agents should not be very expensive.
The cause of this expected boon is a combination of more prudent contract structures, improved drafting, a younger core roster and the benefit of time to overcome bad contracts. If the Ravens future cap position holds, they will be in position to construct their most complete roster since 2012 next year. An overview of the team’s 2018 payroll...
- Joe Flacco ($24.8 million cap charge)
- Jimmy Smith ($13.1 million)
- Brandon Williams ($11 million)
- Marshal Yanda ($10.1 million)
- C.J. Mosley ($8.7 million)
- Tony Jefferson ($8.5 million)
- Eric Weddle ($8.3 million)
- Terrell Suggs ($7 million)
- Ronnie Stanley ($5.6 million)
- Justin Tucker ($4.5 million)
The Young Core
- Breshad Perriman ($2.8 million)
- Marlon Humphrey ($2.7 million)
- Kamalei Correa ($1.6 million)
- Maxx Williams ($1.3 million)
- Tyus Bowser ($1.3 million)
- Chris Wormley (approximately $0.9 million)
- Tim Williams (approximately $0.9 million)
- Tavon Young ($0.8 million)
- Alex Lewis ($0.8 million)
- Kenneth Dixon ($0.7 million)
- Nico Siragusa ($0.7 million)
- Matt Judon ($0.7 million)
- Michael Pierce ($0.6 million)
- Sam Koch ($3.6 million)
- Danny Woodhead ($3.3 million)
- Anthony Levine ($1.5 million)
- Albert McClellan ($1.5 million)
- Morgan Cox ($1.1 million)
- Chris Moore ($0.8 million)
- Chuck Clark ($0.8 million)
- Brandon Carr ($7 million)
- Dennis Pitta ($5.2 million)
- Lardarius Webb ($2.6 million)
- Bronson Kaufusi ($0.9 million)
- Carl Davis ($0.9 million)
- Za’Darius Smith ($0.8 million)
- Buck Allen ($0.8 million)
- Nick Boyle ($0.7 million)
- Darren Waller ($0.7 million)
- Willie Henry ($0.8 million)
- Maurice Canady ($0.7 million)
- Stephane Nembot ($0.6 million)
- Jermaine Eluemunor ($0.6 million)
Notable pending Free Agents
- Terrance West
- Mike Wallace
- Ryan Mallett
- Crockett Gillmore
- Ben Watson
- Michael Campanaro
- John Urschel
- Brent Urban
- Kyle Arrington
- Ryan Jensen
- Chris Matthews
- De’Ondre Wesley
In summary, Baltimore should have the flexibility to not only retain their best homegrown free agents, but also shop for impact veterans from other teams, all without mortgaging the future by forcing backloaded contract structures. For context, the Ravens projected 2018 salary cap space is still the ninth least in the league. However, the Ravens franchise offers some perks that may allow them to land top players who receive offers from other less successful teams. 2018 free agents include playmakers such as Jarvis Landry, Allen Robinson, DeAndre Hopkins, John Brown, Donte Moncrief, Devante Adams, Sammy Watkins, Jordan Matthews and capable blockers Donald Penn, La’el Collins, Justin Britt and Gabe Jackson.
After multiple consecutive years of anguish, the salary cap situation in Baltimore is finally looking up. If the Ravens can draft and develop better players than their competition, they are primed to add more hardware to the franchise’s trophy case during the coming seasons.
*All figures sourced from OverTheCap.com