Ravens veteran outside linebacker Pernell McPhee emerged as a dangerous pass rusher last season. Now he's poised to become the latest talented, young defensive player to leave the Ravens and cash in as a free agent.
McPhee, 26, is considered a luxury item the Ravens probably can't afford to retain as his four-year, $2.2 million rookie contract expires. The Ravens are dealing with a tight salary cap situation and have pressing needs at other positions.
McPhee is expected to command an annual salary between $8 million and $10 million when free agency begins March 10, according to NFL sources. Among the teams regarded as potential fits for McPhee: the Oakland Raiders, Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts.
This is not an unfamilar situation for the Ravens, who have regularly developed young defensive players, only to lose them in free agency.
It happened last year, when defensive tackle Arthur Jones was signed by the Indianapolis Colts to a five-year, $33 million contract with $16 million guaranteed. Two years ago, Ravens linebackers Paul Kruger (five years, $40.5 million, $13 million guaranteed) and Dannell Ellerbe (five years, $35 million, $14 million guaranteed) signed with the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins, respectively.
McPhee had 7.5 sacks last season working behind outside linebackers Elvis Dumervil (17 sacks) and Terrell Suggs (12) while playing roughly half of the Ravens' defensive snaps.
McPhee had 64 quarterback pressures last season and 24 quarterback hits while lining up everywhere from nose tackle to defensive end. A former fifth-round draft pick from Mississippi State, the 6-foot-3, 280-pound McPhee has a versatility and combination of size and mobility that makes him attractive to NFL teams.
And in 2014, unlike in previous season, McPhee remained healthy all year.
McPhee acknowledged in December that leaving the Ravens was a possibility.
"I would love to be here," McPhee told The Baltimore Sun "It's a business. I hope they'll want me back. I hope so, man. I don't know if they're talking, but I hope so. This is where I was born in the NFL, and I wouldn't mind continuing to live here and keep it going."