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To fill their holes, Ravens will need to be creative with salary cap spending

Can the Ravens find a way to free up salary cap money to pay their own free agents while signing others?

It would be simple for the Ravens to retool their defensive secondary, sign an elite wide receiver and find a solid pass rusher if it weren't so complicated.

Obviously, you came here looking for logic in all the wrong places.

During the "State of the Ravens" news conference this week, owner Steve Bisciotti applied his well-tested management philosophy to the issues that have spawned considerable fan discontent, but this isn't really about who will be the offensive coordinator next season or who's really responsible for a second straight disappointing season. It's about how the Ravens navigate the coming offseason under the NFL salary cap.

Let's stipulate right here that every team has very smart full-time employees to crunch the numbers inside that byzantine system, so there's no sense trying to understand it — especially since the actual cap for next year has not been officially announced.

There have been reports that the cap will rise from about $155 million to somewhere between $166 million and $170 million per team, which should give the Ravens some flexibility. But the infusion of an estimated $400 million into the industry's player payroll structure will also push the price of free agents northward — particularly among the few premier players in the categories critical to the Ravens' improvement – which will blunt the impact of that increase. And that's just one small variable buried in a mountain of unknowns that all have an impact on each other.

No matter where you look inside football's player compensation system, you run into the football equivalent of Newton's Third Law. Every action pretty much has an equal and opposite reaction.

The Ravens have spelled out over the past week or so what their needs are and it really wasn't necessary. Everybody could see what happened to the depleted pass defense. Everybody is bemoaning the lack of an Antonio Brown-type threat in the receiving corps. Everybody knows the Ravens must do a better job of pressuring opposing quarterbacks.

So fans light up the talk shows wondering why the Ravens can't get a dominant receiver like Dez Bryant or the next Elvis Dumervil (because the current one isn't working out) or a couple of shutdown corners, because that's all it will take to be a Super Bowl contender again.

And you can bet that Bisciotti would happily write those big checks if that's the way the football world worked.

Instead, the Ravens have lost their top wide receiver to retirement and may have to let Mike Wallace and several other veteran players go to create enough cap room to have any chance of keeping critical free agents Brandon Williams and Rick Wagner while addressing all of those other needs sufficiently.

How does that makes sense? Wallace is the only true veteran wideout left on the roster, but if the Ravens can shed most of his $8 million cap number and sign another released veteran for $4 million, they've basically saved enough money to sign an additional mid-price free agent.

If you want to speculate about a perfect scenario, say the rebuilding 49ers decide that they can no longer justify what they've committed to former Raven Torrey Smith ($9.6 million total cap hit) and cut him before June 1. He might be willing to come home for a more modest deal, presumably to the delight of the fan base.

The cornerback conundrum is the most pressing challenge. Top cornerbacks are to pro football right now what quality left-handed starting pitchers are to baseball. The supply-and-demand dichotomy is so one-sided that they seldom become available, and when they do the price is prohibitive for any team with thin cap space.

The Ravens will be looking to add a corner out of the free-agent market, but their limited payroll flexibility may force them to settle for a former high draft choice who didn't live up to the scouting reports over the span of his rookie contract.

They also will have to decide whether to spend money on a pass rusher or use the draft to add to a group of young defensive linemen and linebackers that delivered mixed results during an uneven second half of the regular season.

Oh, and general manager Ozzie Newsome said he wants the Ravens to get deeper and bigger on the offensive line.

Newsome and his staff have a long history of finding the right players and making the hard choices that allowed the Ravens to remain consistently competitive regardless of their salary cap situation. Even after missing the playoffs three of the last four seasons, it is important to note that they have only once over the past nine years failed to be in playoff contention through Week 15.

The fans have to realize that Odell Beckham and Richard Sherman are not going to be free agents this year and the Ravens probably couldn't afford them if they were, but maybe the benefit of the doubt is in order here.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and follow him @Schmuckstop on Twitter.

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