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Ravens' offseason primer on free agents and a salary cap update

Following a disappointing 8-8 season in which the Ravens failed to qualify for the playoffs after making it the previous five seasons under coach John Harbaugh, they face another challenging offseason filled with difficult personnel and salary cap decisions.

Here's a look at the Ravens' free agents and a salary cap outlook:

With a projected NFL salary cap limit of $126.3 million, up from $123 million last season, the Ravens have 37 salary cap commitments for a total of $111.872 million. They ended the season with $1.5 million in salary cap space that can be carried over to the 2014 fiscal year.

The Ravens have multiple decisions that could give them anywhere from their current $14.5 million in cap space -- before any restricted free-agent signings, exclusive-rights free-agent signings or releases -- to roughly $7 million before free agency begins.

The salary cap figure for the Ravens will be fluid until the league determines a firm salary cap number and the Ravens figure out whether to keep players under contract, such as veteran fullback Vonta Leach ($2.33 million salary cap figure, $1.75 million base salary), who could be released due to his reduced role in the offense.

That includes the following high salary cap figures: nose tackle Haloti Ngata ($16 million cap, $8.5 million base salary), quarterback Joe Flacco ($14.8 million cap, $6 million base salary, plus $15 million option bonus), outside linebacker Terrell Suggs ($12.4 million, $7.8 million base salary), cornerback Lardarius Webb ($10.5 million cap, $7.5 million base salary), running back Ray Rice ($8.75 million salary cap, $4 million base salary), right guard Marshal Yanda ($8.45 million cap, $5.5 million base salary), inside linebacker Jameel McClain ($4.4 million cap, $3.2 million base salary), outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil ($3.375 million cap, $1 million base salary, $3.5 million option bonus) and defensive end Chris Canty $3.166 million cap, $2 million base salary).

Ngata, Flacco, Suggs, Webb, Rice and Yanda account for $70.9 million against the salary cap for 2014.

The Ravens have 14 unrestricted free agents, including wide receiver Brandon Stokley, who intends to retire.

The other unrestricted free agents are tight end Dallas Clark, nose tackle Terrence Cody, tight end Ed Dickson, cornerback Corey Graham, defensive lineman Arthur Jones, wide receiver-kick returner Jacoby Jones, strong safety James Ihedigbo, safety Jeromy Miles, left tackle Eugene Monroe, right tackle Michael Oher, tight end Dennis Pitta, running back Bernard Scott and middle linebacker Daryl Smith.

Of this group, the top priorities to retain will be Monroe, Pitta and Smith heading into a free agency signing period that starts March 11 when the new league year begins.

Acquired in a trade from the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for fourth-round and fifth-round draft picks, Monroe is considered more likely to be back than Oher, a 2009 first-round draft pick who has been prone to penalties.

Pitta proved that his surgically-repaired hip is sound again and is expected to command a market-value deal. Dickson isn't expected to return.

Arthur Jones, whose strong play may have priced himself out of the Ravens' budget, is expected to receive plenty of attention and a big contract in free agency.

Smith stabilized the middle linebacker position after Ray Lewis' retirement. Although he had a good season with 123 tackles, five sacks and three interceptions, Smith should be affordable.

Jacoby Jones played for $4 million last season, including a $3 million base salary and $1 million roster bonus. He may be a luxury the Ravens can't afford.

Under the right price, Graham is a valuable nickel back worth keeping. He led the team with four interceptions.

Ihedigbo finished second on the team in tackles and also intercepted three passes, all against Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. He has earned the right to start in this league, but his status is complicated by the possibility the Ravens will move free safety Matt Elam to his natural strong safety position. If that happens, there probably wouldn't be room for Ihedigbo, and the Ravens would still need to acquire a true free safety through free agency or the draft.

The Ravens have just two restricted free agents: wide receiver Tandon Doss and linebacker Albert McClellan. To save money, they could non-tender them rather than pay the low tender of $1.398 million and sign them to veteran minimum deals.

The Ravens have six exclusive-rights free agents: safeties Omar Brown, Anthony Levine and Brynden Trawick and linebackers D.J. Bryant, Josh Bynes and Adrian Hamilton. The Ravens usually keep all of their exclusive-rights players.

The Ravens have already retained eight practice squad players to reserve-future deals: wide receiver Kamar Aiken, tight end Matt Furstenburg (Maryland), defensive tackle Cody Larson, offensive tackle David Mims, tight end Nathan Overbay, wide receiver Gerrard Sheppard (Towson, McDonogh), quarterback Nick Stephens and center Reggie Stephens. The Ravens still might sign running back Jonas Gray to a reserve-future deal.

awilson@baltsun.com

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