With little salary cap room, Ravens need to get draft right this year

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) stands in disbelief after throwing a second crucial interception to the Jacksonville Jaguars during the third quarter in Baltimore. The Ravens failed to finish, losing to the Jags, 22-20.

To make up ground in the AFC North as well as the conference, the Ravens need to have a quality draft because they might not have enough salary cap room to bring in high-profile free agents.

The team's draft record has been disappointing since the late 2000s when the Ravens selected players who made an immediate impact, like guards Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda in 2007 and quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice in 2008.


But in 2016, the Ravens need to find these players on the defensive side of the ball. If Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa is available when the Ravens have the No. 6 overall pick, they should select him. If he isn't and Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey is, they should turn in the card for Ramsey.

There doesn't appear to be any other route for the Ravens to improve so quickly. As of Monday, the Ravens had the second-least amount of salary cap room to sign players, behind only the Buffalo Bills.


Some experts predict the cap could increase by nearly $12 million for next season up to $155 million, but that's still not enough for the Ravens to re-sign some of their own players and possibly add high-price free agents like Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller, New York Jets outside linebacker Muhammad Wilkerson or Cincinnati Bengals receivers Marvin Jones or Mohamed Sanu.

There are always ways to circumvent the cap, but it eventually catches up with a team. And the Ravens also would like to re-sign their own unrestricted free agents, like guard Kelechi Osemele, kicker Justin Tucker and outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, as well as restricted free-agent receiver Kamar Aiken.

And then there's quarterback Joe Flacco, who has the third-biggest cap number ($28.55 million) of any NFL player for 2016. At the end of the regular season, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said the organization would like to be strategic enough in building its 2016 roster that it won't have to renegotiate Flacco's contract.

That statement could be interpreted in a number of ways. Maybe after watching average performances by Flacco two of the past three years, the Ravens don't want to re-invest more money in Flacco. Maybe they want him to play two more years, and then get him to re-sign a new contract before it expires in 2018. At that time, Flacco would be 33 and the Ravens would have better leverage.

Or maybe Newsome's statement was simply posturing and the two sides will begin negotiations this week out in Indianapolis, where the NFL combine will take place. Either way, Newsome and Joe Linta, Flacco's agent, do not like each other. These negotiations will get quite heated, especially when Flacco demands a lot of guaranteed money like Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson who got nearly $62 million of his $88 million contract guaranteed.

Even if Flacco accepts a new deal, the Ravens still won't have a lot of cap room. They are going to have to make some decisions on possibly releasing veterans like linebacker Daryl Smith, defensive end Chris Canty and cornerback Kyle Arrington. They are going to have to make similar decisions on offensive tackle Eugene Monroe and tight end Dennis Pitta, even though it will be to the club's advantage to cut ties after June 1 if they decide to release either.

Usually in the offseason a team might need to plug two or three holes to get back into serious contention, but the Ravens have many. They need a pass rusher, a cornerback, a left offensive tackle, a tight end and a speedy wide receiver.

They have some weapons on offense with Flacco and receiver Steve Smith, but there's not a lot for an opposing team to be concerned about. It's even worse on defense.


What one player does an opposing team have to game plan for? Who are the playmakers? Where are the intimidators?

Regardless of the Flacco situation or free agency, the Ravens can make up some ground with a good draft. They've done it before with selections like linebackers Peter Boulware, Ray Lewis and Jamie Sharper, cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Duane Starks and safety Ed Reed.

They haven't done well in recent drafts, although the 2014 class could end up being a good one. The Ravens could turn their fortunes around in 2016 because they could have as many 10 picks.

So, this isn't the time to miss on players as they did with safety Matt Elam, linebackers Arthur Brown, Sergio Kindle and John Simon, and defensive tackle Terrence Cody.

A lot of jobs could depend on this draft. The Ravens need to get it right.