The Ravens again this offseason are trying to augment a much-maligned secondary, and they decided Monday that two past free agent defensive back signings are no longer in their plans.
In their first roster activity in five weeks, the Ravens terminated the contracts of cornerback Shareece Wright and safety Kendrick Lewis, moves that were expected after both defensive backs had lost their starting jobs at different points of last season.
The releases come exactly a year to the day of Wright, 29, signing a three-year, $16 million deal. Lewis, 28, was entering the final season of a three-year, $5.4 million pact. The two moves create $4.9 million of salary cap space, giving the Ravens about $18 million of room with free agency starting Thursday at 4 p.m. The Ravens have other salary-cap decisions they can make in the days ahead if they need to create more financial flexibility.
Veterans Dennis Pitta, Benjamin Watson, Jeremy Zuttah, Elvis Dumervil, Lardarius Webb and Kyle Arrington could all be in jeopardy as the Ravens work to address their myriad needs in free agency. The Ravens will also have to decide by Thursday afternoon whether to pick up wide receiver Mike Wallace’s $5.75 million contract for 2017, a decision that might have become more complicated when former Raven deep threat Torrey Smith became available this week.
The Ravens figure to spend some of their cap room on their secondary which is now extremely thin. With Wright, a nine-game starter last year, now gone, the Ravens’ depth chart at cornerback behind oft-injured Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young features Arrington, Maurice Canady, Robertson Daniel and exclusive rights free agent Sheldon Price.
At safety, Webb isn’t certain to be back to play alongside Pro Bowl selection Eric Weddle. Reserves Matt Elam and Anthony Levine Sr. are also headed to free agency, and the Ravens have already said they won’t be bringing Elam back following his arrest on drug charges late last month.
However, the Ravens clearly believe they can find upgrades over both Wright and Lewis. Pro Football Focus ranked Wright 76 out of 112 graded cornerbacks last season. Lewis, meanwhile, played in just six games and 17 defensive snaps before he ultimately went on injured reserve on Oct. 22 after aggravating a hamstring injury in practice.
Lewis was a relatively cheap free agent addition in 2015, when he was signed as a replacement for Darian Stewart, who wound up going to the Denver Broncos and making his first Pro Bowl this past season. A veteran of seven NFL seasons, Lewis was signed by the Ravens after stints with the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans. He started 15 games for the Ravens in 2015, but struggled to make impact plays.
Following the season, the Ravens signed Weddle and fully transitioned Webb from cornerback to safety, relegating Lewis to a reserve role and special teams responsibilities. He’s now a free agent, and his release creates $1.8 million of salary cap room.
Wright’s failure to provide stability at the position was the latest disappointment for general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh in trying to assemble a deep and reliable cornerback corps.
Wright signed with the Ravens after a brief and highly disappointing stint with the 49ers. He played well enough during the 2015 season to get a three-year contract extension, pairing him with Jimmy Smith, his best friend and former high school teammate, as Ravens’ starting cornerbacks.
He started nine of the 12 games he played in last season and finished with 52 tackles and no interceptions. During one three-game stretch, Wright was beaten for five touchdown catches. Wright was left inactive for the team’s Week 5 game against the Washington Redskins, although Harbaugh said later that the cornerback had back spasms the morning of the game.
He missed three games with a hamstring injury and was behind Young and Jerraud Powers on the depth chart when he came back. Wright ultimately returned to the starting lineup when Smith went down with an injury.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti even singled out Wright’s disappointing play at the team’s season-ending news conference, saying the cornerback’s struggles “really set us back.”
Wright’s release creates $3.1 million of salary cap space, but also adds $2.7 million of “dead money” on the cap.