Baltimore Ravens beat writer Jeff Zrebiec on the release of pass rusher Elvis Dumervil, creating $6 million of cap room. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
The Ravens spent much of the day before the official start of free agency saying goodbye to several of their key players and watching other potential acquisitions head elsewhere. However, by late Wednesday night, they felt good about their chances of making a significant addition to their defense.
Former Arizona Cardinal Tony Jefferson, the top-rated safety on the free agent market, is strongly considering joining the Ravens when he’s officially allowed to sign after 4 p.m. today, according to sources. The deal isn’t a formality, but the Ravens are in good position to pair Jefferson up with starter and 2016 free agent addition Eric Weddle.
The addition of Jefferson jeopardizes Lardarius’ Webb’s future with the team, and adds another decision for the team’s front office, which has been especially busy over the last 48 hours.
A day after letting go of reserve defensive backs Shareece Wright and Kendrick Lewis, the Ravens terminated the contract of outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, an expected move given the edge rusher’s age (33), declining sack numbers and escalating salary cap figure.
They also learned that two of their top three free agents almost certainly will not return, a damaging yet not totally surprising blow in their attempt to better their roster after an 8-8 season. Three-year starting right tackle Rick Wagner is poised to sign with the Detroit Lions and fullback Kyle Juszczyk will join the San Francisco 49ers after 4 p.m. today.
According to NFL Network, Wagner, 27, will make more than $9 million per season, becoming the second-highest-paid right tackle in the league behind the Philadelphia Eagles' Lane Johnson, who makes $11.25 per year in a contract that covers his expected move to left tackle.
Per ESPN, Juszczyk, 26 next month, will sign a five-year, $21 million deal with the 49ers. The $5.25 million per year on his expected deal is more than double that of any other fullback in the NFL and suggests that the 49ers plan to use Juszczyk in more of an H-back role.
Offensive guard Vladimir Ducasse, who started eight games for the Ravens last season, also won’t be back as he’s verbally agreed to a three-year contract with the Buffalo Bills, where he’ll join former Ravens offensive line coach Juan Castillo.
The Ravens are still hopeful that they can re-sign nose tackle Brandon Williams, the team's top offseason priority, but they've been unable to meet his asking price to this point. Retaining Williams and securing Jefferson would represent a nice turnaround. Jefferson, 25, started 14 games for the Cardinals last season and he'd bring solid coverage skills and athleticism to the secondary
Still,Wednesday had to be a difficult day with two players they drafted and developed all but moving on, and the Ravens deciding to part ways with a popular and well-respected player in Dumervil to create much-needed salary cap space.
By releasing Dumervil, the Ravens created $6 million in salary cap space while absorbing $2.375 million in dead money. Dumervil, who is one sack short of 100 for his career, had been set to enter the final season of a five-year, $26 million contract, signed in 2013.
“Elvis Dumervil has been a leader for us on and off the field,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement released by the Ravens. “He has made a positive impression on our franchise, and we have been fortunate to have him as a Raven. We respect his professionalism and the way he plays the game, in addition to his extensive charitable efforts that have greatly impacted our Baltimore community and his parents’ native country of Haiti.”
Newsome said the Ravens haven’t ruled out re-signing Dumervil. For now, the plan is to give young pass rushers Za’Darius Smith and Matthew Judon more snaps. Rush linebacker Terrell Suggs, 34, is expected to return for his 15th season, and the Ravens will likely add at least one edge rusher in the draft because improving the pass rush is a stated offseason priority.
Dumervil had three sacks, 11 tackles and two forced fumbles while being limited to eight games after an offseason in which he had Achilles tendon surgery. In four seasons with the Ravens, Dumervil had 351/2 sacks and was selected to the Pro Bowl twice.
When he and Suggs were healthy, they were the destructive edge-rushing tandem that the Ravens hoped they would become. The two combined for 29 sacks in 2014, with Dumervil setting a team record with 17. However, injuries limited both players in recent seasons, and Dumervil had just nine sacks over his past two seasons.
In a post on his Twitter account, Dumervil thanked team officials and said, “Although we didn’t reach our goal of winning a championship, I will never forget my time as a Raven.”
Dumervil’s release leaves the Ravens with about $15 million of salary cap space heading into the market opening this afternoon. The Ravens are still working to create more space, and those efforts have led them to ask tight end Dennis Pitta to take a pay cut, according to sources. It’s unclear whether the sides will be able to work something out.
The 31-year-old has two years remaining on the five-year, $32.5 million deal he signed before the 2014 season. He's due to make a base salary of $5.5 million in 2017 and he carries a salary cap hit of $7.7 million. That was the sixth-highest cap number on the team and also the sixth highest among NFL tight ends.
In cutting him, the Ravens would create $3.3 million in salary cap space. However, they also will have to absorb $4.4 million in dead money on the cap.
The Ravens could also decide to move on or request a pay cut from tight end Benjamin Watson, center Jeremy Zuttah, cornerback Kyle Arrington and Webb. If the Jefferson deal gets done, the Ravens are likely to either release Webb, a move that would create $5.5 million of cap space, or ask him to take a pay cut.
The Ravens will have to decide by 4 p.m. today whether to pick up wide receiver Mike Wallace’s 2017 contract option. Declining it would create $5.75 million of salary cap space, but also leave the Ravens without their two most productive wide receivers last season, with Steve Smith Sr. retiring.
Complicating the Ravens’ decision on Wallace is the availability of Torrey Smith, who was released this week by the San Francisco 49ers. According to sources, there is mutual interest from both sides for a reunion, but Smith has other options, as well. Smith, Wallace and Perriman all have similar skill sets, so it’s hard to believe the Ravens would add Smith and still pick up Wallace’s option.
The Ravens are looking to add a complementary, possession wide receiver to their lineup. Brandon Marshall was viewed as an intriguing potential fit after he was released last week by the New York Jets, but he signed a two-year deal worth a reported $12 million with the Giants on Wednesday. Former Washington Redskin Pierre Garcon also won’t last long on the market with reports that, along with Juszczyk, he’s going to sign with the 49ers.