Cap casualties? Ten veterans who could go if Ravens look to save money for 2019

Eric Weddle played in his third Pro Bowl in three seasons with the Ravens recently. He’s under contract for 2019.

But as the veteran safety said earlier in the week, he does not know if he’ll play for the Ravens, go to another team or retire in 2019.

Such uncertainty is a way of life in the NFL, especially for players in their 30s earning millions of dollars for their past excellence. Even a Pro Bowl appearance is no guarantee of job security when every general manager in the league is looking to make his roster younger and more cost-efficient.

Free agency could hit the Ravens hard this offseason, but they face equally significant decisions about many key players who are contracted to return. For years, fans have lamented the Ravens’ lack of spending power on the open market. That could change in 2019 if new general manager Eric DeCosta opts to discard familiar but expensive names.

Here’s a look at 10 veteran Ravens who could be cut in the name of salary-cap savings:

Likely gone

Joe Flacco

Coach John Harbaugh essentially said goodbye to his longtime quarterback after the Ravens’ playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Flacco wants to start, and the team would save $10.5 million on its 2019 salary cap by trading or cutting him before June 1. DeCosta will look to obtain value for Flacco, but one way or another, the greatest quarterback in Ravens history will play elsewhere next season. Meanwhile, the Ravens will have a four-year window to stack the rest of their roster while Lamar Jackson plays on his rookie contract.

Michael Crabtree

The Ravens designed their three-year deal with Crabtree so they could move on with relatively little pain after one season. That seems the most likely scenario after the 31-year-old wide receiver struggled with drops and failed to deliver his customary red-zone production in 2018. Crabtree’s underwhelming season was not entirely his fault; none of the team’s receivers racked up catches with Jackson at quarterback. But the Ravens can save $4.67 million by cutting Crabtree as they again search for the right formula at a position that consistently vexes them.

Difficult choices

Eric Weddle

The Ravens would save $6.5 million if they cut Weddle instead of bringing him back for the last year of his deal. They seem likely to target a young safety in the draft or free agency this offseason. But there are compelling arguments for keeping the 34-year-old. Despite widespread perceptions that Weddle struggled to make plays in the open field in 2018, the scouting web site Pro Football Focus graded him a top-15 safety, with excellent marks for both coverage and run defense. He’s chiefly responsible for keeping the back end of the defense organized, and teammates credited him for keeping quarterbacks off-balance with his constant stunts and adjustments. His all-around contributions would be missed.

Jimmy Smith

At age 30, Smith still has the talent to shadow elite wide receivers, and he played better as the 2018 season went on. But the Ravens can save $9.5 million by cutting him, and they have cheaper options at cornerback. Though Smith has been an essential defender at his best, he’s played all 16 games just twice in eight seasons. It’s possible the Ravens could negotiate an extension that would make Smith less costly in 2019. But would they make such an effort for a player who’s missed 13 games over the past three seasons?

Marshal Yanda

In Yanda’s case, the difficult decision might be his more than the team’s. He was non-committal last season when asked how long he planned to play. The Ravens could save $7 million by cutting the 34-year-old guard, but that seems unlikely after he regained his standing as the team’s best and most consistent offensive lineman in 2018. With the offense now built around Jackson, Yanda’s run blocking is perhaps more valuable than ever. The question is whether the seven-time Pro Bowl selection will seriously consider retirement.

Less likely sources of savings

Brandon Carr

Would the Ravens cut both Smith and Carr in the same offseason? Carr is the less gifted of the two veteran cornerbacks, but he’s cheaper and far more reliable, having started all 16 games in each of his 11 NFL seasons. The Ravens might be tempted to save $5 million by cutting the 32-year-old Carr before March 17. But they need a dependable corner to pair with Marlon Humphrey, and there’s no guarantee they could do better on the open market.

Willie Snead IV

Snead gave the Ravens what they were looking for in 2018 with his assertive style in the middle of the field. He also fared better than Crabtree and John Brown in developing on-field chemistry with Jackson. The Ravens could save $4 million by cutting the slot specialist, but would they jettison him in addition to dropping Crabtree and letting Brown leave in free agency? Of the three, Snead seems most likely to return in 2019.

Tony Jefferson

Jefferson played almost every snap when healthy this season, and he’s perhaps the fiercest hitter on the team. The Ravens would save $3.83 million but create $8.82 million in dead cap if they cut him before June 1. On the other hand, their savings would jump to $8 million if they cut him after June 1. Jefferson has given every indication he expects to be with the Ravens in 2019, and that seems likely. But if DeCosta goes for an aggressive rebuild on defense, the 26-year-old safety’s status could become less certain.

Sam Koch

The Ravens value the remarkable stability they’ve established with their kicking unit of Koch, Justin Tucker and Morgan Cox. As a result, they pay more than any other team in the league for those three positions. If their priorities were to change, they could save $3.15 million by cutting the 36-year-old Koch, who remains one of the league’s best tactical punters. There’s no indication that’s a consideration at the moment.

Anthony Levine Sr.

Levine has delivered terrific value for the Ravens considering his excellence on special teams and his versatility in the secondary. The Ravens could save $1.5 million by cutting him but seem unlikely to do so given the bigger-ticket roster decisions they face at cornerback and safety.

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