Baltimore Ravens

Ravens free up cap space but characteristically quiet on first day of free agency

On a day where money changed hands at a dizzying rate both before and after the free-agent market opened at 4 p.m., the Ravens stayed mostly quiet, but set themselves up to make moves in the days ahead.

Starting Wednesday with the least salary cap space in the NFL, the Ravens created nearly $4 million of space by converting $5.3 million of Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda's $6.19 million base salary in 2016 into a signing bonus.


Veteran cornerback Kyle Arrington, whose roster spot was in jeopardy after the Ravens re-signed Shareece Wright earlier this week, also agreed to an undisclosed pay cut. Arrington, who had a difficult first season with the team, had been due to make a $2.1 million base salary this season, but that number has been cut significantly.

The moves, along with the Ravens' restricted free-agent tenders, leaves the team with approximately $6 million of salary cap space to spend on a group of free agents that still includes potential targets like wide receiver Mike Wallace, tight end Owen Daniels and cornerback Brandon Boykin, along with their own unrestricted free agent, rush linebacker Courtney Upshaw.


The free-agent market, though, was thoroughly weakened after the first-day spending spree.

Quarterback Brock Osweiler, who has made seven career starts, got an eye-popping four-year, $72 million deal to go from the Denver Broncos to the Houston Texans. The Giants handed out more than $190 million in contracts to land pass rusher Olivier Vernon, defensive tackle Damon Harrison and cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Four Cleveland Browns starters — wide receiver Travis Benjamin, center Alex Mack, offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz and safety Tashaun Gipson — all signed big deals elsewhere.

Former Ravens standout defensive lineman Haloti Ngata agreed to a two-year deal to remain with the Detroit Lions. Even former Ravens backup quarterback Matt Schaub found a job as he returned to the Atlanta Falcons organization that he played with for the first three seasons of his 12-year career. Now, he's backing up Matt Ryan, not Michael Vick.

Then, there were the Ravens, who reverted to form after uncharacteristically reaching a verbal agreement Tuesday on a two-year, deal with former New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson. Watson's deal will pay him a maximum of $8 million and includes $3 million in guaranteed money.

The Ravens, who traditionally wait out the big-ticket free agent items in favor of more modest and under-the-radar additions, did make a few procedural moves. They announced that they placed the previously reported second-round tender on restricted free agent Kamar Aiken, their leading receiver last year. In somewhat of a surprising move, they also placed the $1.67 million low tender on tight end Chase Ford.

Ford didn't play a game for the Ravens after they plucked him off of the Minnesota Vikings' practice squad in mid-November. His tender, coupled with the signing of Watson, could be an indication that the Ravens are concerned that starting tight end Crockett Gillmore, who has torn labrums in both of his shoulders according to coach John Harbaugh, might not be ready for the start of the 2016 season.

The Ravens didn't tender their other three restricted free agents, meaning that wide receiver Marlon Brown, defensive lineman Micajah Reynolds and safety Brynden Trawick are all free to sign elsewhere. The Ravens, however, haven't closed the door on any of them returning.

Trawick, 26, would be the biggest loss. A core special teams player for the team since 2013, he led the Ravens with nine special teams stops last season, along with playing in the team's goal-line defense package.


Brown, 24, had 49 catches for 524 yards and seven touchdowns as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2013. In two seasons since, he had just 38 catches for 367 yards and no touchdowns, and struggled to stay healthy. With the Ravens loaded with receivers, Brown's departure was expected.

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Otherwise, the Ravens will enter Day Two of free agency with the same much-discussed needs. They are still looking to add playmakers on offense and Wallace, the speedy receiver who was released Tuesday by the Minnesota Vikings, is a player of interest depending on his asking price.

The Ravens will continue to monitor the offensive tackle market, which still has plenty available with Russell Okung, Donald Penn and Kelvin Beachum not yet signed.

On defense, their holes may be significantly harder to fill. Just about all the top pass rushers are already off the market, and some other available quarterback threats, like Chris Long and Robert Ayers, aren't great fits for the Ravens' 3-4 defense.

There are still plenty of cornerbacks available, but the price of the top remaining ones, a group that includes Prince Amukamara, Casey Hayward and Boykin, is said to be extremely high. As for safety, the top ones on the market — George Iloka, Rodney McLeod and Gipson — all signed new deals Wednesday in the range of $6-$7.5 million per year.

That's too rich for the Ravens, even after a first day partly spent on creating salary cap space to be active in the market going forward.