The salary-cap impact of Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis' pending retirement will amount to a net savings of $4.35 million for this year, an important bit of savings considering the AFC North champions' free agency needs.
Due a $5.4 million base salary in 2013, Lewis was scheduled for a salary-cap figure of $7.3 million.
The Ravens save the $5.4 million by virtue of Lewis' exit from the roster, but will still have to account for his $1.9 million in prorated bonus for 2013 and $650,000 and $400,000 in 2014 and 2015 for a total of $2.95 million in total dead money.
Lewis was signed to a seven-year, $42.5 million contract extension that included $16.5 million in total guaranteed money, including a signing bonus of $6.25 million.
The Ravens are expected to face a tight salary-cap situation even with Lewis' departure because they are expected to have to use the franchise tag to retain quarterback Joe Flacco, barring an advancement in contract discussions that hit an impasse in August with talks tabled until after the season.
The outlook for free safety Ed Reed is murky, too.
Reed could be expensive to retain after making $7.2 million this year in the final year of his contract.
Reed hasn't hired a new agent to represent him after a contract extension was broached last year. The Ravens haven't held talks with Reed this year, but he's expected to hire an agent after the season.
If the future Hall of Fame defender heads elsewhere, expect the potential suitors to include the New England Patriots, the Indianapolis Colts and others.
Reed will also contemplate retirement depending on how the Ravens fare in the postseason.
The Ravens will be challenged to replace a trio of key defensive free agents: outside linebacker Paul Kruger, who recorded a career-high nine sacks and will be sought after by teams looking for a situational pass rusher; cornerback Cary Williams, who intercepted a career-high four passes to go with 75 tackles and 17 pass deflections; and inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.
Ellerbe is expected to field a strong market for his services as one of the top inside linebackers available if he hits free agency. He'll be an important player for the Ravens to try to retain following Lewis' retirement.
Despite dealing with a broken thumb, a sprained thumb, a left foot injury and a sprained right ankle that limited him to 13 games and seven starts, Ellerbe recorded a career-high 89 tackles to rank second on the team. He also emerged as the Ravens' top inside blitzer with 4 1/2 sacks.
Although the Ravens made a $10.5 million commitment to Jameel McClain last spring, he's recovering from a spinal cord contusion. While McClain had 79 tackles this season in 13 starts, he had no sacks or forced fumbles.
While Flacco is the No. 1 priority for the Ravens' offseason financially, they'll have other business to conduct to try to upgrade a defense that has improved over the past six games to finish the season ranked 17th in the NFL.
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