With the Baltimore Ravens having little salary cap room to maneuver and some of the most-coveted soon-to-be free agents on the market this year, Tuesday's start to the league year—and thus free agency—is set to be eventful.
In fact, in the days and weeks leading up to free agency, things haven't been all that quiet in Baltimore. On the heels of winning their second Super Bowl in franchise history, changes loomed large, and they've only just begun.
Here you'll find a comprehensive guide to everything Ravens free agency, from signings to cuts, grades to rumors and everything in between.
Free-agent priority Dannell Ellerbe is still talking with the Ravens.
In an attempt to get below the salary cap and handle the myriad issues surrounding their impending crop of free agents, the Ravens have been particularly active leading into free agency. Also, with many of those soon-to-be free agents coming off of a Super Bowl win, they've found themselves about to lose grasp of players who can command major salaries elsewhere.
Here's the latest news and rumors coming out of Baltimore.
March 20: CBS Sports' Jason LaCanfora has confirmed Ed Reed has agreed to join the Houston Texans. Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun says it is a two-year deal; Reed had been looking for around $6 or 7 million per season.
March 19: ESPN's SportsCenter is reporting that the Houston Texans have offered free agent Ravens safety Ed Reed a three-year deal. He has yet to sign it and the value of it is still unknown.
March 15: The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson says that Marcus Spears' deal is worth $3.5 million over two years.
March 15: FOX Sports' Alex Marvez reports the Ravens have signed free agent defensive end Marcus Spears to a two-year deal.
March 15: Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun says that teams have contacted Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta about his services. Pitta received a second-round restricted free agent tender of $2.023 million, but that doesn't make him immune to being snagged by another interested team.
March 14: Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Ravens have re-signed cornerback Chris Johnson to a one-year deal.
March 14: The Philadelphia Eagles have announced they have signed free agent Ravens cornerback Cary Williams to a three-year deal. ESPN's Adam Schefter says it is worth $17 million and includes $10.5 million guaranteed.
March 14: Ravens free agent safety Ed Reed is currently meeting with the Houston Texans, and according to Mark Berman of FOX 26 in Houston, and according to Reed, the interest is mutual.
March 13: CBS Sports' Jason LaCanfora is reporting that free agent Ravens safety Ed Reed will meet with the Houston Texans tomorrow and that visits with the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers could follow.
March 13: Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Ravens have released safety Bernard Pollard. NFL Network's Albert Breer says this move saves the Ravens $1 million against the salary cap but costs them $2.25 million in dead money this year.
March 12: Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Ravens have re-signed safety and special teams contributor James Ihedigbo to a one-year deal. Financial terms aren't yet known.
March 12: NFL Network's Albert Breer reports that the Ravens have signed free agent defensive tackle Chris Canty to a three-year deal worth $8 million that includes $2.8 million guaranteed.
March 12: Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Ravens have re-signed offensive guard Ramon Harewood to a one-year deal. Financial details aren't yet available.
March 12: Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Ravens have lost their highest-priority free agent, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who has signed with the Miami Dolphins. Specifics of the deal aren't yet known.
March 12: Ravens running back Damien Berry has signed his one-year exclusive rights free agent deal, worth $555,000, according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun.
March 12: Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports the Ravens have re-signed long snapper Morgan Cox. It is a two-year deal with an undisclosed cost at this time.
March 12: Evan Silva of Rotoworld says that ESPN's Adam Schefter is reporting that the Ravens are one team interested in free agent wide receiver Danny Amendola.
March 12: Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun is reporting that the Ravens have retained and re-signed wide receiver David Reed. Reed will receive a two-year deal worth around $2.5 million plus a $500,000 signing bonus.
March 11: Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun reports that Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones has received a second-round restricted free-agent tender worth $2.023 million in 2013.
March 11: NFL Network's Albert Breer reports that restricted free-agent tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson have received tender offers from the Ravens. Pitta will get the second-round tender, worth $2.023 million, and Dickson will get the lowest tender, worth $1.323 million (Breer incorrectly reported the wrong value for Dickson).
March 11: Free-agent left tackle Bryant McKinnie appeared on Around the League on NFL Network and said that he wants to return to the Ravens but not at a discount. McKinnie said the Ravens already got him at a discount in 2012, and now that they've shelled out so much money to quarterback Joe Flacco, it's time for McKinnie to get paid too, saying, "They bought a Maserati, they need to pay for the insurance."
March 11: Bracing for a glut of free-agent interest—and perhaps a new deal from the Ravens—safety Ed Reed has decided not to represent himself in negotiations and instead hired an agent, David Dunn. The New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts are two possible landing spots for the 34-year-old veteran.
March 11: The Ravens and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe are trying to hammer out a new deal to keep Ellerbe in Baltimore in 2013 and beyond.
March 11: The Ravens traded wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round pick, reports Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun. Boldin was owed a $6 million base salary in 2013 and was asked to reduce it by $2 million; he refused and the Ravens sent him to the team they beat just over a month ago in the Super Bowl. His total 2013 salary cap figure was $7.531 million.
March 9: Two of the most sought-after Ravens free agents are linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe. Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer reports the Cleveland Browns have been in contact with their agents.
March 5: Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco finally signed his new deal, worth $120.6 million over six years, which includes $52 million in guaranteed money and $62 million over the first three years. He has a 2013 salary cap hit of just $6.8 million, however.
February 8: Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin said that if the Ravens release him to save cap space, he'll retire. We all know how that worked out.
Joe Flacco got his big payday.
The Ravens have worked hard to shore up their most important free agents prior to Tuesday's start of the league year. These three signings are likely the tip of a small but significant iceberg.
DE Marcus Spears—Two-year deal; $3.5 million.
CB Chris Johnson—One-year deal; cost unknown.
S/ST James Ihedigbo—One-year deal; cost unknown
DT Chris Canty—Three-year deal; $8 million, $2.8 million guaranteed
G Ramon Harewood—One-year deal; cost unknown
RB Damien Berry—Exclusive-rights free agent tender; $555,000
LS Morgan Cox—Two-year deal; cost unknown
WR David Reed—Two-year deal; $2.5 million
DE Arthur Jones—Second-round RFA tender; $2.023 million
TE Dennis Pitta—Second-round RFA tender; $2.023 million
TE Ed Dickson—Lowest RFA tender; $1.323 million
QB Joe Flacco—Six-year deal; $120.6 million
Anquan Boldin was traded on Monday.
The Ravens are set to lose more players than they retain, and the bloodletting is pretty brutal from a defensive standpoint.
S Bernard Pollard—Released. New team: Tennessee Titans; one-year deal, financials unknown.
S Ed Reed—Unrestricted free agent. New team: Houston Texans; three-year deal, $16 million.
CB Cary Williams—Unrestricted free agent. New team: Philadelphia Eagles; three-year deal, $17 million, $10.5 million guaranteed.
S Bernard Pollard—$1 million savings; $2.5 million dead money.
LB Paul Kruger—Unrestricted free agent. New team: Cleveland Browns; five-year deal, $40 million.
LB Dannell Ellerbe—Unrestricted free agent. New team: Miami Dolphins; five-year deal, $35 million.
G Bobbie Williams—$1.2 million savings.
WR Anquan Boldin—Traded to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick; refused to reduce 2013 base salary from $6 million to $4 million.
Joe Flacco got the deal he wanted.
The Ravens needed to give quarterback Joe Flacco a new contract in 2013 rather than spend anywhere between $14 and $21 million to give him a franchise tag that would have put them in salary cap no-man's-land. They accomplished this in early March, signing him to a six-year, $120.6 million deal that includes $52 million in guaranteed money and a modest $6.8 million total salary cap hit in 2013.
The price was inflated by the conflation of two important milestones in Flacco's career—having been named Super Bowl MVP in a contract year. The result was Flacco receiving the largest contract in NFL history. Though it wasn't entirely warranted, the Ravens had no choice. Indeed, the timing was firmly in Flacco's favor.
While it's a lot of money, the Ravens needed to secure their quarterback no matter how much money it costs in the long term. It's a heavily back-loaded contract, however, which protects Baltimore's interest while satisfying Flacco. It seems like a lot of money on paper, but the deal is workable and likely prevented a lot more roster attrition.
The Ravens had no choice but to trade Boldin.
Though Anquan Boldin said in February that if the Ravens terminated his contract, he'd opt for retirement rather than play anywhere else, it was likely said as a test to Baltimore's loyalty rather than a true pronouncement on behalf of the three-year Ravens veteran.
With a $6 million base salary in 2013 and a total cap hit of $7.531 million for the season—more than Joe Flacco—the Ravens needed Boldin to take a discount in order to play out the final year of his contract. They wanted him to reduce his salary by $2 million, and the two sides were at such odds that they considered releasing him last Friday.
Instead, they opted to trade him to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick.
Boldin was a major part of the Ravens' postseason success in 2012, notching 22 playoff catches for 380 yards and four scores. He also had 65 catches for 921 yards and four additional touchdowns during the regular season. He was a reliable go-to option for Joe Flacco and a physical presence on the field that the Ravens will have a tough time replacing.
The Ravens proved that the financial issues with Boldin were all business and not personal—trading him to a contender like the 49ers is a strong indication that they still respect him regardless of their ability to pay him. But now they'll need to find another solution for Flacco and their passing offense, because the Ravens will have to spend much of 2013 justifying, on-field, paying Flacco such a large contract.
Tendering Pitta and Dickson was necessary.
If the Ravens were to minimize the negative impact of losing Anquan Boldin in trade, they'd need to shore up the rest of their receiving options, which means extending offers to their two restricted free-agent tight ends, Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson.
Dickson will receive the original-round compensation tender worth $1.323 million in 2013, while Pitta will get a second-round tender worth $2.023 million. Though they could still lose one or both of the two when free agency commences Tuesday, it's not likely, and the Ravens may also be able to match any offer they get.
Dickson caught 27 of 39 passes thrown his way in 2012 for 315 yards and zero scores. Pitta was far more valuable—and may even take over for Boldin this season—catching 75 of 109 total targets for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns, three of which came in the playoffs.
The Ravens would likely have wanted to pay Pitta, in particular, more money by way of a long-term contract, but with their finances an issue and other free agents a high priority, it wasn't an option. Maybe next year, if his production remains high. Dickson's participation in the offense should only go up in 2013.
The one thing the Ravens hoped wouldn't happen when free agency began, has. They have lost inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe—thought to be heir apparent to the retired Ray Lewis—to the Miami Dolphins according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. CBS Sports' Jason LaCanfora says the deal is for five years and is worth $35 million—and the Ravens certainly couldn't have afforded to pay him $7 million per year. The perils of having salary cap issues are clearly evident with this major loss.
Ellerbe and the Ravens spent the hours leading up to the start of free agency trying to get a deal done, but the 4:00 p.m. Eastern start of the league year came without one and Ellerbe was free to move on. Inside linebacker now becomes an immensely important draft need for the Ravens.
The Ravens made a free agent addition from the open market on Tuesday, signing defensive tackle Chris Canty to a three-year deal worth $8 million with $2.8 million in guaranteed money according to NFL Network's Albert Breer.
Canty, a former New York Giant, missed the first seven games of the 2012 season with a knee injury but has been otherwise healthy. He played 300 snaps last season, with three sacks, five quarterback hits and nine hurries and graded out as the 19th-best defensive tackle for 2012 according to Pro Football Focus, out of a field of 85.
Canty can likely step in and start at nose tackle this year, taking over for free agent Ma'ake Kemoeatu and the still-developing (or, rather, disappointing) Terrence Cody. It was a smart move at a good price; the Ravens cannot be knocked for this addition.
In an attempt to get further under the salary cap—perhaps to extend deals to safety Ed Reed and offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie—the Ravens released safety Bernard Pollard on Wednesday.
The release saves the Ravens $1 million in cap space but also costs them $2.5 million in dead money. He was to be owed a $500,000 roster bonus this weekend.
Without Pollard, Ray Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger, the Ravens have gutted their defense this offseason. If this move was made for financial reasons, it makes a little bit of sense—but no more than a little. How the Ravens plan to replace these many players has yet to be seen. Pollard was a locker room leader and an on-field nightmare for opposing offenses; it's a little strange the team valued that $1 million over his talent.
Former Dallas Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears joined the Ravens on Friday, signing a two-year deal. Spears played 394 snaps in all 16 games in 2012, with 211 as a run-stopper and 183 in pass rush. He adds depth, to be sure, but doesn't do much to address the Ravens' needs at linebacker. Still, it's not a bad addition and should at least improve their run-stopping in 2013, which was a concern last year.