We are but a week removed from the Super Bowl, but with free agency not starting for another month and the NFL draft over two months away, it's time for speculation to run wild. That's certainly the case for the Baltimore Ravens, even as they are still in celebration mode after hoisting their second Lombardi trophy in franchise history.
It all stems from the Ravens' need to pay their quarterback Joe Flacco something, anything—he's otherwise an unrestricted free agent if they don't, so a long-term deal as well as the exclusive and non-exclusive franchise tags are all on the table.
In order to pay Flacco, however, they'll need to clear up salary cap space elsewhere. Currently, the Ravens are around $13 million under the cap—not enough for either tag and potentially not enough for a new deal for Flacco unless his first year or two has a lower base salary though the deal, over time, includes enough guaranteed money to give him the kind of payday that at least his agent, Joe Linta, thinks he deserves.
The topic of who stays in Baltimore and who goes is therefore a hot one. And a few prominent voices around the league seem to have some interesting—or perhaps even crazy—ideas for how the Ravens can figure it out.
On Saturday, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk cited that "some in league circles" think that Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs could be released in order to free up cap space. If he's done so after June 1—or if his release is designated for post-June 1—then the Ravens would save $6.4 million, a pretty significant chunk of cash.
Though Florio dismissed the rumors as "madness," clearly the sentiment was strong enough from his sources that he felt compelled to bring up the idea. But there's no reason to believe that Suggs' job is in any danger, regardless of the Ravens' cap situation. The cost to keep him on the roster is far lower than the cost of losing him.
Just a year ago, Suggs was named defensive player of the year after notching 14 sacks, seven forced fumbles and two interceptions in 2011. Though his 2012 season was marred with injury—he partially tore his Achilles' tendon in the offseason, keeping him off the field until October and then he suffered a biceps tear that further served to affect his production—that doesn't discount his importance to Baltimore's defense.
With Ray Lewis now retired and safety Ed Reed not likely to remain a Raven in 2013, Baltimore needs to retain as many of their remaining defensive veterans as possible. While there are decisions the Ravens need to make at the linebacker position—such as how they will afford to keep unrestricted free agents Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe on the roster—retaining Kruger and Ellerbe won't happen at the expense of Suggs.
It would be a knee-jerk reaction not only to the cap situation they're facing but to Suggs' down performance in 2012—four sacks, including the playoffs and just one forced fumble. Though the Ravens need to find cash for Flacco and need to do a little financial gymnastics in order to keep both Ellerbe and Kruger, that doesn't make Suggs expendable. In fact, the spot the Ravens have found themselves in on defense in general and concerning their linebackers, specifically, makes Suggs even more important in 2013.
But that isn't the only strange talk about the Ravens right now. The next gem comes courtesy of Sports Illustrated's Peter King, who wrote extensively in his "Monday Morning Quarterback" column this week on a potential scenario that would have Flacco out in Baltimore and heading to Cleveland to start for the Browns.
Here, briefly, is what King sketched out: The cash-strapped Ravens are only able to offer Flacco the non-exclusive franchise tag this year, worth $14.6 million. Not only does Flacco hate this move, resulting maybe in a holdout, it also leaves him vulnerable to interested, cash-flush teams to offer him more money, losing two first round draft picks in the process.
With the Browns nearly $50 million under the cap this year and interested in, at the very least, bringing on someone to compete with Brandon Weeden for the starting job, they'd certainly have the money to pay Flacco the $20 million per year he's apparently seeking and he'd also be a major upgrade at the position.
And the Ravens could get two highly valuable draft picks, including the sixth-overall this April. They'd then trade for a veteran quarterback (King suggests Alex Smith or Matt Flynn) while also drafting someone younger so the veteran, the rookie and Tyrod Taylor could compete for the starting job. This is pretty straightforward, yes, but also incredibly crazy.
While the cap situation in Baltimore isn't all that great, the endgame of this will not be that Flacco plays elsewhere in 2013. He threw for 3,817 yards in the regular season—the most of his career—and 1,140 more in four postseason games. He had 22 touchdowns to a mere 10 interceptions all year, including the postseason, and 11 additional passing scores in the playoffs and Super Bowl. All signs point to him continuing to improve, especially with Jim Caldwell as his offensive coordinator.
And, most importantly: Flacco was the single-most important player in the Ravens' run up to and victory in the Super Bowl. You don't have a Super Bowl MVP quarterback and, because he's set to be a free agent, and because there's some financial difficulties, just let him go. It's not an option.
Granted, King is talking in hypotheticals. However, King leads with the "could Flacco leave Baltimore?" angle and spends a ton of column-inches on this hypothetical situation. He's putting it out there as a legitimate option, and it's certainly generating discussion (this could be Exhibit A), but it's ridiculous to even bring it up.
Sure, Flacco-to-the-Browns is not an impossibility—there's a clear path to this end—but it might as well be, because it's not going to happen. Flacco will remain in Baltimore in 2013 and likely for the remainder of his career.
Finally, King makes another bold prediction about the Ravens, albeit in passing—he suggests the team should draft Manti Te'o with their first-round pick, as the successor to Ray Lewis.
Forget the whole Lennay Kekua thing—regardless of Te'o's personal life, what exactly could he add to the Ravens in 2013? The last time we saw him on the football field, he was being completely dominated by Alabama's offense in the BCS title game. If he's going to be an impact player in the NFL, it's going to take more than just a rookie-year offseason to get there.
What the Ravens need to do is find cash to retain Ellerbe and have him be their starting middle linebacker in 2013. Though they might not be able to—you know, that Flacco contract thing—the next-best scenario is not Te'o. Though the solution to their linebacker problems might be found in the draft this year, it won't be Te'o. That King just brought up the idea in passing makes it seem like he's just thinking out loud rather than actually believing this is the best move the Ravens could make.
Speculation and rumors are the currency of the offseason, so it's no surprise that there's a little bit of crazy being peddled out there in connection with the Ravens' current situation. However, these three items—Suggs being cut, Flacco going to Cleveland, Te'o being a first-round Ravens selection—are seriously far-fetched.