Longtime Ravens defensive back Lardarius Webb wasn’t being evasive when asked about his future the day after the team’s season ended. He was more speaking from the experience of being a veteran player in an organization that is annually seeking salary-cap flexibility.
Before the 2015 season, Webb took a $2 million pay cut to stay with the team and remain one of its starting cornerbacks. Last offseason, he was released in a move that opened up $5.5 million in salary cap space. The Ravens ultimately re-signed him to a three-year deal in April to fill a nickel cornerback/reserve safety role.
As he packed up the contents of his locker on New Year’s Day, the 32-year-old wasn’t sure what this offseason would bring, but said he had no immediate plans to retire.
“I’m going to play until they kick me out,” Webb said. “I enjoy playing.”
Webb started the regular season as the Ravens’ top slot corner after Tavon Young and Maurice Canady both went down with knee injuries during summer workouts. He played 46 snaps and had three tackles and an interception in the team’s regular-season opener, a 20-0 shutout of the Cincinnati Bengals.
However, his role was reduced significantly after Canady returned from injured reserve. Safeties Anthony Levine Sr. and Chuck Clark also took on expanded roles in the slot. Webb played 15 snaps or fewer in each of the final five regular-season games.
“I kind of enjoyed the role I played this year with the younger guys and improving them, but I do like playing,” Webb said. “I’m going to ride it out.”
Webb has two years and about $4.2 million left on his contract. The Ravens would generate $1.75 million in cap savings by releasing Webb, a move that seems likely given the defensive back’s age, decreasing role and the team’s tight salary-cap situation.
The exact salary cap number hasn’t been set yet, but the website Overthecap.com projected the Ravens will have about $11 million of salary cap space and ranked the team in the bottom six in terms of cap flexibility.
That means that the Ravens will have to create more space before free agency officially begins at 4 p.m. on March 14. Below are other potential salary cap candidates:
Jeremy Maclin, WR: After all the fanfare that came with him signing a two-year, $11 million contract in June, it appears that Maclin will be one-and-done with the Ravens. He struggled with injuries, missing four games and being limited in a few others. He also never appeared to be on the same page with quarterback Joe Flacco and caught just 40 balls for 440 yards and three touchdowns on 72 total targets. Making the release of the 29-year-old even more likely is the fact that it will create $5 million of salary-cap room and accelerate the offseason overhaul of the team’s receiving corps.
Danny Woodhead, RB: Another of the team’s big free-agent additions for last season, Woodhead also couldn’t stay healthy and the Ravens struggled to use him when he was on the field. Woodhead had 33 catches for 200 yards and 14 carries for 56 yards in eight games after he missed the first half of the season with a hamstring injury. It wasn’t the return the Ravens hoped for when they signed him to a three-year, $8.8 million deal in March. He turns 33 later this month and he has a significant injury history. The Ravens would save less than $2 million by releasing him, but the presence of Alex Collins, Buck Allen and Kenneth Dixon on the roster could make Woodhead expendable.
Brandon Carr, CB: This could be the Ravens’ toughest call. The Ravens could open $4 million of salary cap space by releasing the 31-year-old, but they’d also create a significant hole at cornerback. With Jimmy Smith and Jaylen Hill’s statuses for the start of the 2018 season uncertain after they both sustained significant season-ending leg injuries and with Tavon Young missing all of this past season with a knee injury, the Ravens would leave themselves extremely thin at corner by jettisoning Carr. Plus, the veteran had a solid season when not matched up with star receivers, and his durability and leadership are two qualities the Ravens need.
Austin Howard, RT: The 30-year-old had a solid season after signing a three-year, $16 million deal with the Ravens in August after his release from the Oakland Raiders. He started all 16 games and mostly held up in pass protection. Releasing Howard would save the Ravens $3 million, but they also don’t have a starting-caliber replacement for the big right tackle on the roster, unless they plan to shift guard Alex Lewis outside. Howard would seemingly be in jeopardy if the Ravens take an offensive tackle early in April’s draft.
Breshad Perriman, WR: The Ravens will almost certainly decline Perriman’s fifth-year option for 2019 this offseason, but could they consider cutting him before training camp even begins? Given the state of their receiving corps and their willingness to give a former first-round draft pick every chance to contribute, it’s probably unlikely. Plus, cutting Perriman would put nearly as much dead money on the salary cap as it would create in cap savings ($1.6 million). However, Perriman was a healthy scratch in four of the final seven games and he had just 10 catches for 77 yards and no touchdowns this past season. The Ravens could just cut bait if they feel Perriman is a lost cause.
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Albert McClellan, LB: McClellan, one of the team’s top special teams players and a valuable reserve linebacker, missed the entire 2017 season after tearing up his knee. He turns 32 before training camp and he’s due to make a base salary of $1.25 million in 2018. The Ravens would only save a little over $1 million by letting one of their longest-tenured players go, but they’re always looking to get younger at certain spots and they had a few of their rookies emerge on special teams this past season.