6 Cuts That Could Create Serious Cap Space for Baltimore Ravens
As the Baltimore Ravens look over the roster and envision the additions that will be made over the coming offseason, they also have to think about which players won’t be brought back. Most of those losses will be free agents who aren’t re-signed, but this list is filled with players who may be cut to save money.
Cap casualties are a necessary evil in the salary-cap age of the NFL, and these players represent the best compromise for the Ravens in terms of balancing cap savings and the relative value of the players. To help you gauge this tightrope act, each player is presented with his 2014 cap hit and the savings Baltimore would enjoy with a release.
Some of these decisions will be fairly clear, like the fate of punter Sam Koch. On the contrary, the front office will have some incredibly tough choices to make—none more difficult than what to do with Terrell Suggs.
One thing we know about the Ravens—just look at last offseason—is that they aren’t afraid to let fan favorites and long-time Ravens walk out the door.
**Note: All salary cap information is courtesy of OverTheCap.com**
Sam Koch, P
Cap Hit: $2,800,000; Cap Savings: $1,600,000
Punters are people too. But in Sam Koch’s case, punters are well-paid people whose cap hit outweighs their on-field production.
Koch has been a tremendous punter during his seven-year tenure in Baltimore, but his performance dipped at points during last season.
But let’s be blunt here—this isn’t even a discussion if his cap hit is $1 million this season.
The reality of the situation is that the Ravens are paying Koch like he’s the eighth-best punter in the league when he’s really quite average.
In 2013, Koch was 13th in punt average, 13th in punts downed inside the 20-yard line and 14th in ProFootballFocus' punter rankings (subscription required).
He doesn’t have a consistently huge leg nor is he exceptionally adept at pinning teams back near their own goal line.
Yes, he’s clearly an above-average punter, but the Ravens can nab a punter via the draft or free agency for a third of Koch’s salary, and the drop-off in production wouldn’t be that significant.
Of all the potential cap casualties discussed here, this one is the most likely to occur—it makes too much sense not to happen.
Jameel McClain, ILB
Cap Hit: $4,400,000; Cap Savings: $3,200,000
This is another move that is likely to unfold. Jameel McClain fought hard and persevered through a devastating spinal cord injury to make it back on the field in 2013, but he struggled to shed blocks in the running game and had issues in coverage.
According to Matt Vensel of The Baltimore Sun, head coach John Harbaugh has high hopes for 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown, and there may not be a tremendous need for McClain—certainly at that hefty cap number, which is the seventh highest on the roster.
McClain’s one saving grace might be the uncertain status of unrestricted free agent Daryl Smith.
If Smith moves on, then the Ravens may be forced to keep McClain as a starter. If Smith stays, however, then McClain is as good as gone.
The former undrafted free agent took a pay cut last offseason, and he may be willing to do so again. He’ll have to if he wants to stay in Baltimore.
Vonta Leach, FB
Cap Hit: $2,330,000; Cap Savings: $1,750,000
The Ravens have been through this song and dance with Vonta Leach before—just last season, in fact. The fullback may be an endangered species in the modern NFL, but it was already extinct for the Ravens last year.
Faced with running-game woes worse than anything witnessed in franchise history, Baltimore shifted its offensive philosophy and went three-wide for most of the year.
For those counting at home, that meant one player needed to be taken off the field. Meet Vonta Leach.
Based on last year’s usage, there’s no question that Leach will be released for the $1.75 million in cap room the move would yield.
But 2014 will be different from 2013…hopefully. New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s offense is rooted in the running game, and he likes to have a fullback to pave the way for his running backs.
With an offseason to rework the offensive line and ground game, the Ravens should be back to their ground-and-pound ways—which needs a fullback.
That doesn’t mean that Leach is staying, however.
Ultimately, Leach’s fate will be decided by 2013 fourth-round pick Kyle Juszczyk. The Harvard fullback wasn’t ready to be a lead blocker in his rookie campaign, but a year of seasoning (and being the lead blocker on returns) may have done the trick.
If Juszczyk is ready to be the bodyguard for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, then the Ravens would be wise to let Leach go and reap the benefits of the additional cap room.
A.Q. Shipley, C/G and Jah Reid, T/G
Jah Reid Cap Hit: $785,810; Cap Savings: $645,000
A.Q. Shipley Cap Hit: $570,000, Cap Savings: $570,000
Just so we’re clear, these are the less likely cap casualties, and only one of them—if any—is going to occur. Even if they do occur, neither of them would save much money and would really be about a transfusion of new blood along the O-line.
But it shouldn’t come as a shock that the Ravens would like to clean house along the offensive line much like they did with their offensive coaching staff.
A.Q. Shipley was brought in to challenge Gino Gradkowski as the starting center, but he lost that position battle—to a player who was ProFootballFocus’ worst center in the league last year (subscription required).
Then Shipley filled in for injured left guard Kelechi Osemele and frequently looked physically outmatched.
With 2013 sixth-round pick Ryan Jensen in the wings—a player the coaching staff has shown plenty of admiration for—and possibly a veteran free agent on the way, Shipley may have lost his spot on the depth chart.
Or, it may be Jah Reid who has lost his spot on the depth chart.
Reid's versatility to play tackle or guard was his meal ticket, but it seems like a long time ago that Reid was the starting left guard in 2012. Since a toe injury knocked him out for the Super Bowl run, Reid has lost his place in the rotation.
When Kelechi Osemele got hurt, Reid didn't get an opportunity to replace him despite filling that role just one year before.
The job security of Shipley and Reid depends on how many offensive linemen the Ravens bring in to turn things around, but there's a chance that one of them loses his roster spot.
Terrell Suggs, OLB
Cap Hit: $12,400,000; Cap Savings: $7,800,000
Of all the decisions that Ozzie Newsome and the rest of his team have to make, this will be the toughest.
Terrell Suggs has been a Raven for the entirety of his 11-year career, but there are legitimate concerns surrounding his play on the field.
He started 2013 with a bang, returning to his Defensive Player of the Year form as a disruptive pass-rusher and force against the run.
But that production tailed off dramatically throughout the season to the point where he was a non-factor by the end of the year.
Suggs is the single greatest source of cap savings for the Ravens this offseason, and that makes him a possible cap casualty.
The most favorable outcome for the organization would be to extend Suggs, reducing his cap hit to a manageable figure and ensuring that "Sizzle" retires a Raven. But have no illusions; the Ravens aren't going to be sentimental about this move.
If Suggs refuses to take a pay cut, then he's as good as gone.