On Sunday morning, the Ravens learned just how little salary cap space they have left. On Sunday afternoon, they prepared to spend a lot of it.
The Ravens’ pending trade for Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell, who’s reportedly close to signing a two-year deal through 2021 worth up to $27 million, will take the team one big step closer to the NFL’s spending limit. Under the new collective bargaining agreement ratified Sunday, the hard cap for 2020 is $198.2 million, slightly less than expected.
The Ravens are already pretty close. According to salary database Spotrac, the team would have about $6 million in cap space if outside linebacker Matthew Judon signs a franchise tag tender worth $15.8 million and the 2020 cap hit of Campbell’s eventual deal is $13.5 million.
That number, already inexact, will fluctuate constantly throughout the offseason. The Ravens can get relief by releasing players and restructuring contracts. But roster-building demands will compel them to spend — on free agents, on contract extensions, on rookies.
Already, they’ve taken care of four pending free agents, tagging Judon and re-signing wide receiver and return specialist De’Anthony Thomas, defensive back Jordan Richards and offensive tackle Andre Smith. With the legal tampering period starting Monday and NFL free agency opening Wednesday, here’s how the Ravens might proceed with 15 other players facing uncertain futures.
[ Ravens set to acquire Jaguars Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell for fifth-round pick ]
Likely to return
Center Matt Skura: Because of his three accrued seasons, the former undrafted free agent is set to become a restricted free agent. Before a season-ending knee injury in November, Skura was seemingly on track to earning a second-round tender, giving the Ravens the opportunity to match any offer sheet and ensuring a compensatory second-round pick if they chose not to.
At guard Marshal Yanda’s retirement news conference Wednesday, Skura told reporters that he’s still scheduled to be ready for training camp. But given the uncertainty over his knee’s health, he’s now more likely to receive a right-of-first-refusal tender, a one-year offer that would be worth about $2.1 million. The Ravens would also have the right to match any offer sheet Skura signed with another team.
The deadline to tender offers is 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Defensive end Jihad Ward: The Ravens are close to finalizing a deal with the former second-round pick, according to a report Saturday from The Athletic.
After signing with the Ravens in early October, the 6-foot-5, 287-pound Ward developed into a versatile and dependable piece in the defense’s front seven, helping to set the edge on early downs and moving inside on pass-rushing downs. In 11 games, he finished with seven tackles, four quarterback hits and a sack, and he played more than 50% of the Ravens’ defensive snaps in all but two appearances.
[ Ravens free-agency preview: Given the talent in draft, patience at wide receiver could be rewarded ]
Inside linebacker Josh Bynes: The Ravens’ depth at inside linebacker remains paper-thin, with Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor headed to free agency, Chris Board and Otaro Alaka still unproven and only L.J. Fort under contract through 2020.
Signed off the street in October, Bynes emerged as a pleasant surprise for the Ravens. In his return to Baltimore, the 30-year-old finished the season as Pro Football Focus’ No. 6 overall inside linebacker, albeit in a small sample size (393 defensive snaps in 12 games). Because of his age, Bynes likely won’t attract significant multiyear offers, but another short-term deal could be a worthwhile investment.
Defensive back/linebacker Anthony Levine Sr.: While the Ravens’ kickoff and punt return units struggled last season, the 32-year-old remains a reliable special teams contributor. He’s durable, too, having played in all 16 games for seven straight seasons.
Defensively, Levine is solid in coverage and a willing blitzer, making him a useful piece in Don “Wink” Martindale’s defense.
Defensive tackle Justin Ellis: Foot and knee injuries limited Ellis over his final year-plus with the Oakland Raiders, but he quickly found a role in Baltimore. Signed a month after his early-October release, “Jelly,” as he’s known, had six tackles in four games. He was inactive for three.
Ellis, 29, graded out well in run defense last season, according to PFF, and the Ravens need veteran help behind defensive tackle Brandon Williams. If the 6-2, 350-pound Ellis is in good health, he’d be an obvious candidate to return.
[ Ravens free-agency preview: In a loaded defensive line class, Quinton Jefferson could be a bargain ]
Unlikely to return
Defensive tackle Michael Pierce: Despite a disappointing 2019 — he showed up at mandatory minicamp out of shape, then had just half a sack and two tackles for loss in 14 games — Pierce had likely played himself into a contract beyond the Ravens’ budget.
With the trade for Campbell, his departure seems inevitable. The Ravens will look to regroup at the position with Williams, 2019 draft pick Daylon Mack, maybe Ellis and likely one of their first seven selections in next month’s draft.
Defensive back Brandon Carr: As with Skura, the Ravens face a deadline here: They have until 4 p.m. Wednesday to exercise Carr’s $7 million team option. This decision is far more complicated, however.
If the Ravens decline the option, they’d incur $1 million in dead money. If the Ravens pick up the option and keep him on the roster through Sunday, Carr would be owed a $1.5 million bonus. Under his current deal, his 2020 salary is $4.5 million, meaning the Ravens could then release or trade Carr with only minimal cap implications.
Given the team’s limited cap space, it’s unlikely the Ravens take it that far. Carr turns 34 in May, and $7 million is a hefty price tag for a rotational cornerback or third safety. His streak of 192 consecutive starts will probably have to continue elsewhere.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith: The Ravens have negotiated a contract extension with their former first-round pick for months, but general manager Eric DeCosta said last month that Smith, 31, would “want to hit the market and assess what his value is, and he probably should.”
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Despite Smith’s injury history and age, he’ll likely get handsome multiyear offers in free agency. After Byron Jones and Chris Harris Jr., there aren’t many sure-thing free agents at the position. Given the Ravens’ significant investment in younger cornerbacks, though, it’s hard to see how they could make space for Smith.
Inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor: Pegged as the in-house replacement for C.J. Mosley, Onwuasor lost defensive headset duties and then his starting job last season. There will be a market for a speedy linebacker with a combined 8½ sacks and 123 tackles since 2018, but the Ravens know his limitations in Martindale’s system. Don’t expect them to make the highest bid.
Wide receiver Seth Roberts: After signing a one-year deal with the Ravens, Roberts had a career-low 21 catches for 271 yards and two touchdowns. If he wants to earn a long-term deal, he’ll probably first need to produce on another prove-it contract. Given the Ravens’ offensive philosophy, Baltimore’s probably not the best place to do that.
Wide receiver Chris Moore: While his special teams contributions can’t be overlooked, Moore finished with just three catches for 21 yards last season, both career lows. Both sides would be better off going their separate ways.
Wait and see
Defensive tackle Domata Peko Sr.: Signed off the street in mid-November, the 35-year-old Peko seemed to love every moment of his seven games with the Ravens. He even started three times. But how many 325-pound linemen celebrate their 36th birthday on an NFL roster? If the Ravens want a reunion, they can probably afford to wait a while.
Safety Brynden Trawick: The Ravens’ special teams struggled when Trawick was out with an elbow injury last season, but that might not be enough. Like Levine, he’s older for the position, turning 30 this past October. Unlike Levine, he’s rarely earned defensive snaps, with just 15 since 2017.
Offensive lineman Hroniss Grasu: With Skura’s near future uncertain and tackle-guard James Hurst suspended for the first four games of 2020, Grasu could help fill out the depth chart as an inexpensive re-signing. He appeared in one game last season after the Ravens signed him off waivers in early December.