The Webb Situation

The Webb situation.

Let’s talk about Pitta first, and then let me explain why it MIGHT not make sense to cut Webb/absorb the dead money/pay replacement. All three of these things are always major factors in whether it makes fiscal responsibility to cut a player. It also factors in the on field performance you would expect vs how much it will end up costing you when everything is factored in the equation.

First remember that teams now have two June 1st designations to use on players every year, when it used to be just one. Now also remember that the June 1st designation just pushes that dead money payment into the next year, it doesn’t just go away. You are paying that money one way or the other. You are just deferring half of it til the next year.

I can say this with almost certainty….Dennis Pitta will retire/be released, and he will be a June 1st designation to split his remaining dead money up of 6.6m over 2016 and 2017 cap. So Ravens will get hit with 3.3m in 2016, and 3.3m in 2017. Ok now that we have that out of the way, let’s get into the two players that draw the fans ire the most, Webb and then Monroe. Keep in mind that one of those June 1st designations is already used up on Pitta, so we will only have one left to work with.

Let me make it clear that I am totally on the fence with Webb, but when in doubt go to the numbers and see what they tell you. Webb’s cap number is 9.5m BUT the more important number is his BASE salary of 5.5m. In reality THAT is what we are paying Webb next year in cash, NOT 9.5m. This is very important to realize in the overall scheme of things. Webb still has 6m of prorated bonus money (4m in 2016 and 2m in 2017) left on his contract that would accelerate if he were to be released.

So let’s crunch the numbers. If we release Webb we get hit with all that 6m in dead money on the cap, unless we spread it over 2 years. But again, we are getting hit with that money either way so let’s just say it is a straight release, that other half of money doesn’t just go away it will hurt us in 2017.

So we release Webb who is at 9.5 million cap number. But oh guess what? We still get hit with 6m in dead cap money either way, so he will cost that 6m any way you slice it. Without being on the team and actually playing. Then we have to pay his replacement, who may or may not be as good as him. A classic example of that would be the Kyle Arrington situation. We paid him 7m over 3 years to be a 3rd CB last offseason. How did that work out? Yeah, it didn’t. For even a corner of Webb’s ability these days, say a 2ish 3 type corner….you are going to spend 4-5m to get that guy.

So if we take the 6m in dead money from Webb, add in the say 4.5m for a “decent” #2 corner we are over what Webb would be making in 2016 if we just keep him. So unless we can GUARANTEE that the guy we sign is going to play markedly better than Webb next year (yeah good luck with that) we could essentially be paying the same or more for equivalent performance. Or it could end up costing us a couple million for basically the same type of performance.

Now one other scenario that could be in play is convincing Webb to take yet another cut to his base salary like he did last year. If Webb would agree to take almost ANY substantial reduction, that it shifts the balance to the way of it would not make any sense to cut him and replace. What Webb would have to consider is I am getting paid 5.5m in cash from Ravens in 2016, if I refused the base salary reduction
of say 1-1.5m, can I recoup that money or possibly more in the year of 2016 between the signing bonus and my new base.

Here is where it gets tricky, because if Webb was able to secure almost ANY type of signing bonus, in addition to a bnew base salary for 2016, he would likely surpass the “reduced” new base salary of Ravens at about 4-4.5m instead of the 5.5m it currently is now. From and age/talent standpoint I could very well see some team offer him like a 3 year, 10m new deal with say a 3m signing bonus initially. If Webb went that route, he would be getting basically the same amount the Ravens would be paying him even with a base salary cut of about 1m or so in 2016. He would get the 3m signing bonus, and probably a 2m base salary for a total of 5m with that new team. As you can see it will be very close when Webb, his agents and Ravens start doing the math as to what makes sense.

The thing you also have to remember is that CB is a very premium position these days, and the top of the market is about 14m a year. So even “not good” CB’s are going to get about 3m just because of the position. In order to “upgrade” the position with a good amount of certainty, you will need to spend 7m or thereabouts. In that scenario, clearly makes no sense to let Webb go. Ravens would be looking at paying 6m in dead, PLUS the new salary of replacement and MAYBE that guy will be better. Maybe. Are you gonna go out on that limb and have it cost you 10-11m plus in real cap dollars to do it, when you already have Webb at 9.5? It is a very risky proposition. You could very well come out of it spending more cap money, and getting the same or even worse performance from the position.

The last way to do it would be to slot a rookie in there for Webb, but that again comes with HUGE risks, as we saw with the WR situation in 2015. Usually you count on nothing from 1st year players, and you would almost be forced to use a 1st or 2nd round pick, still be paying about 7-9m in real cap dollars to cut Webb and slide that guy in……and he could be completely worthless his first year, or who knows a total bust altogether giving you zero value.

So as you can see, the Ravens will have a very tough decision on their hands either way you slice it. This s is a classic 50/50 choice any way you slice it, and with the secondary struggling the way it has been I have a feeling the Ravens will be reluctant to let a known, albeit underperforming quantity juts walk out the door when they crunch the numbers like I just did. That 6m in dead money really precludes them from just moving on and not having it end up they are paying the next guy just as much or more, with who knows what type of performance.

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Categories: Uncategorized

A look at the Ravens wide receiver situation

August 19, 2013 1 comment

  The trade of Anquan Boldin this offseason, combined with the untimely injury to tight end Dennis Pitta has the Ravens scrambling for that short yardage possession receiver to fill the void left by those two players. Many including myself hoped one of the plethora of young wideouts the Ravens have at their disposal would have stepped up into that role, but that hasn’t happened yet a few weeks into training camp

  Trade for a WR! Bring someone else in! If you listen to talk radio that is what you hear the most. While the idea of bringing a new WR in is very popular, the type of guy that would fit that role and be available is very hard to find. When the Ravens signed a 37 year old Brandon Stokley, that should have sent a clear message that the pickings are slim this time of year at any position, much less one of increasing importance like WR is these days.

  Complicating matters even more is the fact that while the Ravens haven’t found that one guy to step up yet, they do have valuable receivers down the depth chart who play crucial roles on special teams, and who the Ravens have invested precious time and energy in developing the past couple years. There is already a logjam of young drafted and undrafted wide receivers, one or even two of which would have to go if the Ravens did find a willing trade partner.

First let’s go over what the Ravens are working with as we sit here today.

The Locks –

Torrey Smith – The clear number one wide receiver, and obviously he isn’t going anywhere. From all reports he is having a fantastic camp and has improved his overall play to take that next step. He should be lining up outside for years to come as the Ravens brass hit the jackpot with this 2nd rounder.

Jacoby Jones – While clearly not  2nd wide receiver material,  he is next in line on the depth chart behind Smith with the lack of experience further down the roster at receiver. His deep speed and gamebreaking return ability make him another guy who the Ravens just aren’t going to let go with so many question marks behind him.

The Young unproven receivers –

Tanden Doss – The “projected” number 2 hasn’t really done much of anything so far during camp, but with a 4th round pick, a cheap salary this year and next it is hard to see the Ravens parting ways with the youngster. Ozzie Newsome always says that you don’t know what you have in a player until  after his third year in the NFL, and this is that year for Doss. He is the ideal type of player for a Boldin type role, and is it very unlikely the Ravens let him go after only two years. The Ravens value their draft picks very highly, and Doss will have every opportunity to show he is what they thought he was when drafted.

David Reed – A 5th round pick in 2010, while Reed has not excelled on offense he is a valuable piece on the special teams coverage unit, and can return kicks as well. We all know how the coaching staff values special teams players, and that is pretty much what Reed is a this point. Making matters even more complicated is the fact the Ravens signed Reed to a 2 year contract this offseason, instead of the 1 year RFA tender he was in line for. One would think that the commitment to a multi year deal would make it hard for the Ravens to part ways with Reed.  Another huge issue is they paid him a  1.14 million signing bonus to go along with the contract, which would be completely lost if he was released.

Laquan Williams – An undrafted free agent signed in 2011, Williams is another receiver down the depth chart that has shown flashes on offense but is really still developing. That alone is going to make the Ravens wary of parting ways with Laquan, who is will enter his restricted free agent year in 2014 under Ravens control. Williams is also a huge asset on various special teams units, making it unlikely he would be someone on the outside looking in with what he has showed so far in camp this year.

Deonte Thompson – Another undrafted free agent, Thompson was a guy who most said to keep an eye on as 2013 training camp got underway. He was sometimes running with the 1st unit offense during practice, but an injury in the first preseason game derailed the progress he was making. Luckily the injury was reported to not be serious, so hopefully he can get back on the field soon and keep improving. While not the ideal underneath type receiver the Ravens are looking for, enough people in the Castle are high enough on him that getting rid of him is pretty unlikely. He is also under contract through 2014 making the league minimum, so even a little glimpse of potential will keep him around.

Tommy Streeter – Yet another young and up and comer, we hope, Streeter got “red shirted” last year with a “serious injury” which forced him to IR . Streeter again will have an uphill battle to make the 53 man roster, and being he is practice squad eligible that is likely his final destination for the 2013 season. Streeter doesn’t have much tape available for other teams to look at thus far, so the Ravens probably wouldn’t have to worry about him clearing waivers and remaining on the reserve unit.

Aaron Mellette – a 7th round pick in the 2013 draft, Mellette is extremely raw and probably headed for the practice squad along with Streeter. He is a very one dimensional player at this point of his young NFL career, and it is unlikely any team would steal him away off the 8 man reserve squad. His odds of making the 53 man roster are pretty slim, he needs work and there are just too many guys ahead of him at this point.

The old wily veteran –

Brandon Stokley – The recent signing of Stokley was mainly due to the injury Pitta suffered, and the lack of experience running underneath routes from the young wide receivers. I stated pretty emphatically on social media that it was no guarantee Stokley will be in the roster after final cuts and I am sticking with that line of thinking (John Harbaugh also said this in an interview after the practice at the Naval Academy). He is 37 years old, provides no value outside of receiver on special teams, and would have to bump one of the young guys mentioned above out of the picture in order to make the team. It just doesn’t make much sense to get rid of one of the young receivers for a guy like Stokely, who has no future with this team and so far up there in age.

  OK so if you were adding all that up at home that is no less than 9 wide receivers in the mix, 7 if you put Mellette and Streeter on the practice squad. The problem we now have even with no other WR added from the outside, is that is one too many with the Ravens almost certainly carrying 6 going into the season. The Ravens have never carried 7 wideouts on the 53 man roster, and only started carrying 6 a couple years ago.

  So who goes? Your guess is as good as mine. I was going to say it had to be Reed if Stokley made it, but that 1.14m signing bonus they gave him a few months ago makes his spot on the team for 2013 not a lock, but extremely likely. Signing a guy to a two year deal with a signing bonus albeit small, and then cutting him 4 months later just doesn’t make much sense. The Ravens knew what they had with Reed when they gave him the contract, and obviously placed value in his role on the team with that commitment. Nothing has changed since that contract was signed, so what would make the Ravens change their mind on Reed now?

  The other young guys are either not practice squad eligible (Doss, Reed), or are too valuable with potential to risk being exposed to 31 other teams through the waiver process to make it to the practice squad (Williams, Thompson). The lone exception being Streeter, who I think they could sneak onto the squad without any fear of someone scooping him up.

  Also complicating matters is the fact that projected starting TE Ed Dickson is currently injured, and still will be when final cuts are made, requiring the Ravens to possibly carry a fourth  tight end for the early part of the season. That roster spot could have been used for a 7th WR even if it was for a very short period of time at the beginning of the season until some other things shook out injury wise on offense. The Ravens could conceivably go into the season with only 3 TE on the roster, with the hopes Dickson is ready for week 1 at Denver. Although if Dickson wasn’t ready, the Ravens would be in a precarious situation with only 2 tight ends healthy for the first game.

  So there you have it. If anyone can make a good case to get rid of the young guys mentioned I would love to hear it, keeping in mind the time (and mid round draft pick in Doss’ case) invested and contract situations of all of those listed. It just doesn’t make much sense to jettison one of the young guys for a soon to be 37 year old receiver who can only help on offense, and is so old that even his value on that unit has to be questioned without Peyton Manning throwing him the ball.

  Many have speculated that Stokley is a near lock to make the team with the loss of Pitta and lack of underneath experience in the receiving core, but I wouldn’t bet on that. If it was me I roll the dice with the young guys, and re assess after a month or so of the season. Stokley will probably be without a team, and you can then sign him again if all else fails and it costs you no money in terms of cap dollars right now.

  The logjam after the first two receivers is very real, and I just can’t come up with a reason to cut any one of those youngsters, much less two of them in a trade scenario that adds yet another WR to the mix.

  I know one thing, I am glad I am not the one at the Castle making decisions for the final roster. They will have their work cut out for them, especially at the wide receiver position.

Categories: Uncategorized

Early Ravens 2013 53 man roster/salary cap projection

flacco lombardiWhile much has been made about the Ravens cap problems, I have compiled a spreadsheet to put some facts into the discussion. Much has been made about Joe Flacco “crippling” the franchise with a big contract, a “rebuilding year” due to a mass exodus of free agents, or how the Ravens are due to “take a step back” due to cap concerns. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The cap situation while tight has been extremely overblown with all types of wild speculation, not based on the actual numbers, but on typical offseason hysteria driven by lazy reporting. So I put together a little example of how the Ravens will be just fine in 2013 and moving forward, despite the widely held opinion doom and gloom is on the horizon. Ozzie Newsome and the front office’s stellar drafting and player acquisition the past few years has set this team up for multiple runs at a championship, much to the chagrin of everyone outside of Baltimore.

The 2013 salary cap is projected to be around $122 million, which every team must comply with by Mach 12th. With the cap being flat I used estimated RFA tenders, and cap values for draft picks from last years numbers for this estimate. This is ONLY an estimate, will not be exact but should be pretty close. I took some guesses on what positions we will be drafting but the cap numbers will be the same regardless of position, so that is neither here nor there.

Here is how it shakes out:

Player Position Status Base Salary Bonus Prorate Cap Value Rule 51 Value
Joe Flacco QB Re Sign 10,000,000 10,000,000
Tyrod Taylor QB Contract 555,000 26,327 581,237 581,237
Anquan Boldin WR Contract 6,000,000 1,531,250 7,531,250 7,531,250
Jacoby Jones WR Contract 3,000,000 900,000 4,900,000 4,900,000
Torrey Smith WR Contract 683,112 241,224 924,336 924,336
Laquan Williams WR Contract 555,000 166 555,168 555,168
Tandon Doss WR Contract 555,000 103,140 695,810 695,810
Tommy Streeter WR Contract 480,000 23,513 503,513 503,513
Ray Rice RB Contract 1,000,000 4,750,000 5,750,000 5,750,000
Bernard Pierce RB Contract 480,000 138,986 618,986 618,986
Anthony Allen RB EFA 400,000 400,000 000,000
Comp Pick (4) Contract 400,000 100,000 500,000 500,000
Ed Dickson TE RFA/O 1,300,000 0 1,300,000 1,300,000
Dennis Pitta TE RFA/O 1,300,000 0 1,300,000 1,300,000
Draft 3rd Round Contract 400,000 150,000 550,000 550,000
Marshall Yanda OG Contract 4,500,000 2,950,000 7,450,000 7,450,000
Michael Oher OT Contract 3,085,000 1,170,000 4,955,000 4,955,000
Bryant McKinnie OT Contract 3,000,000 3,000,000
Ramon Harewood OT RFA/O 1,300,000 0 1,300,000 1,300,000
Kelechi Osemele OT Contract 542,085 218,340 760,425 760,425
Jah Reid OG Contract 555,000 140,810 695,810 695,810
Gino Gradkowski C Contract 480,000 121,106 601,106 601,106
Draft 4th Round Contract 400,000 100,000 500,000 500,000
Comp Pick (3) Contract 400,000 150,000 550,000 550,000
Sam Koch P Contract 1,900,000 600,000 2,500,000 2,500,000
Morgan Cox LS RFA/O 1,300,000 0 1,300,000 1,300,000
Justin Tucker K Contract 480,000 0 480,000 480,000
Haloti Ngata DL Contract 4,000,000 7,500,000 11,500,000 11,500,000
Art Jones DL RFA/2 1,950,000 0 1,950,000 1,950,000
Terrence Cody DL Contract 630,000 280,000 910,000 910,000
Pernell McPhee DL Contract 555,000 36,140 591,140 591,140
Tyson DeAngelo DL Contract 480,000 11,898 491,898 491,898
Draft 5th Round Contract 400,000 30,000 430,000 430,000
Draft 6th Round Contract 400,000 25,000 425,000 425,000
Terrell Suggs OLB Contract 6,400,000 6,620,000 13,020,000 13,020,000
Courtney Upshaw OLB Contract 630,759 573,036 1,203,795 1,203,795
Michael McAdoo OLB Contract 555,000 1,666 555,666 555,666
Albert McLellan OLB EFA 400,000 0 400,000 000,000
Draft 2nd Round Contract 400,000 250,000 650,000 650,000
Dannell Ellerbe ILB UFA 3,500,000 3.500,000
Jameel McClain ILB Contract 3,000,000 1,200,000 4,200,000 4,200,000
Brendan Ayanbadejo ILB Contract 940,000 133,333 1,073,333 1,073,333
Josh Bynes ILB EFA 400,000 0 400,000 400,000
Draft 1st Round Contract 400,000 1,000,000 1,400,000 1,400,000
Lardarius Webb CB Contract 2,385,000 3,000,000 5,385,000 5,385,000
Jimmy Smith CB Contract 1,053,336 981,673 2,035,009 2,035,009
Corey Graham CB Contract 1,800,000 600,000 2,400,000 2,400,000
Asa Jackson CB Contract 480,000 36,140 516,140 516,140
Chykie Brown CB Contract 555,000 36,140 591,140 591,140
Comp Pick (5) Contract 400,000 30,000 430,000 430,000
Ed Reed FS Re Sign 4,000,000 4,000,000
Bernard Pollard SS Contract 2,000,000 750,000 3,250,000 3,250,000
Christian Thompson SS Contract 480,000 75,146 555,146 555,146
122,065,908 121,265,908

As you can see the Ravens are right around the $122 million number in this calculation, but this does not include any dead money accrued from cuts, or cap carryover from 2012 of 1.1 million. The only significant dead money will be from Ray Lewis and Vonta Leach, the two notable cuts or in Ray’s case retirement. Here are the dead money totals:

Player Position Status Base Salary Bonus Prorate Cap Value Rule 51 Value
Ray Lewis ILB Released 1,475,000 1,475,000
Elliott Hennigan DT Released 1,334 1,334
Billy Cundiff K Released 1,800,000 1,800,000
Omar Brown SS Released 667 667
Bobby Rainey RB Released 1,500 1,500
Nick Jean Baptiste DL Released 3,334 3,334
Vonta Leach FB Contract 3,000,000 1,333,334 666,667 666,667
Ishmaa’ily Kitchen DL Released 3,334 3,334
Jack Cornell OG Released 2,667 2,667
Antoine McClain OG Released 2,667 2,667
Cyhl Quarles S Released 2,667 2,667
John Brantley QB Released 2,000 2,000
Dorian Graham WR Released 2,000 2,000
Devin Goda WR Released 1,667 1,667
Terrence Moore DE Released 1,667 1,667
Bobby Williams OG Released 200,000 200,000
Matt Birk C Released 350,000 350,000
Deonte Thompson WR Released 1,333 1,333
Total Dead Money 4,518,504 4,518,504

It should be noted that the dead money for Vonta Leach and Ray Lewis is a “post June 1″ number splitting the hit between 2013 and 2014. If the Ravens chose to take both hits in 2013 it would raise the total dead money by $2.141 million. (CBA rules allow two post June 1 designations regardless of when the player is released) So as you can see we have dead money of approximately $4.518 million, that needs to be added to the total cap commitments. After doing so, and subtracting our cap carry over from 2012 of 1.1 million it looks like this:

Total Dead Money 4,518,504 4,518,504
Total 53 man roster 122,065,908 121,265,908
Total Estimated Cap 125,784,412
Est 2012 Cap CarryOv 1,100,000
Projected Cap 2013 124,684,412

That puts the Ravens approximately $2.684 million over the cap, with all 53 players and dead money included. Again, this is not going to be exact, but it can paint a picture of just how “dire” the situation is. So with that said, let’s go over some notes on the roster, who is back and who is not – and how I got to some of the cap numbers.

Question marks who I think will be re-signed/retained

1. Joe Flacco – I have Joe Flacco’s first year cap number on a long term extension (something in the 7/140 range with $60 million guaranteed) at $10 million, which is probably on the high end of what it will actually be. Obviously I am banking on a deal getting done, but it seems extremely unlikely Flacco and the Ravens won’t be able to come to an agreement. Flacco’s agent Joe Linta said that he could make an $8 million first year cap number work, but I went on the high side just to be safe. It is likely we can gain an additional $2 million or so of cap space compared to this projection, if we need it.

2. Anquan Boldin – You will notice the Boldin is still on the roster (amazing!), and not only on the roster but at his current 7.53 million cap number which is the last year of his deal. If the Ravens wanted to extend Boldin on say a 2 year deal, that cap number could be lowered by a few million. But again, I took worst case scenario and have him penciled in at his present cap number.

3. Ed Reed – Wait a minute we have money for him too? Yes we do. Reed is living in dream land if he thinks anyone is paying a 35 year old safety what a 25 year old would get, and I have his cap number at $4 million which again is probably being generous depending on the structure of a new 3-4 year low guarantee deal. There is a good chance that could be lower by a million or so, but again I assumed the worst for 2013.

4. Dannell Ellerbe – I have Ellerbe at $3.5 million because I am projecting he will command a reasonable 4 year deal where his bonus could be spread out over that period. Ellerbe is a mid level free agent who plays a position that doesn’t break the bank, and should not command “huge” money on the market. Decent money, but nothing earth shattering.

5. Bryant McKinnie – The Ravens said they are going to let McKinnie test the market, but for a 33 year old tackle who has a reputation of not being in shape his price should be very reasonable on another 2-3 year deal. Free agent and draft tackle depth will keep his price down as well, so I think he will be back at around 3 million a year or thereabouts.

Other notes – You will notice that not one penny of any of these contracts included in the 53 man roster was restructured to fit in. If we happen to be a few million over when all is said and done, we could easily convert a few million in base salary from Yanda, Ngata, or Suggs to gain that extra tiny bit of room if need be.

Free Agent Departures/Cap Casualties

1. Vonta Leach – Leach’s 4.33 million cap number for 2013, and his $3 million savings were just too much for a guy who has been seeing the field less and less lately. He is one of the few cap casualties I have, but necessary in the overall scheme of things.

2. Cary Williams – A decent corner who will get paid like a great one in free agency. With Lardarius Webb back in the fold we can deal with the loss of Williams rather easily. Great story from a 7th round pick to big payday, but it won’t be the Ravens paying.

3. Paul Kruger – It took Kruger 3 years to finally find his niche as a pass rushing specialist. With Courtney Upshaw and Terrell Suggs penciled in as starters at OLB, the Ravens can’t justify paying a part time player a Pro Bowl salary. Some other team will pay him to start at OLB in a 3-4 scheme, but with the salary he will command it just isn’t a fit here in Baltimore.

4. Matt Birk – I think even if Birk wants to come back the Ravens might choose to move on. They drafted Gino Gradkowski last year, and with a year under his belt to learn the system and get a little stronger, it might be time to give the young guy a chance at center. Birk has been a fantastic Raven but his time might be up at 36 years old.

Other Player Notes :

1. Jameel McClain – I have him in the 53 man roster but this is a player who could very well be released. He suffered a spinal cord injury late in the season and still has not been cleared for contact, more than 2 months later. Not only that but his play before the injury left a lot to be desired, and $4.2 million is a hefty price tag for an ordinary ILB. If he was released there would be a net savings of $1.8 million on the 2013 cap if the Ravens took the entire dead money hit of $2.4 million this coming season.

2. David Reed – Usually the Ravens tender all restricted free agents, but I have Reed on the outside in favor of Streeter. I just feel like Reed has been injury prone, and has limited value and ceiling  on the back end of the roster at this point. A younger, cheaper guy like Streeter could very well take his spot down the depth chart. I would say it is 50/50 as far as who gets the last WR spot on the 53 man roster between these two., and if we select a WR at any point in the upcoming draft Streeter probably goes to the practice squad while Reed is cut.

3. Brendan Ayanbadejo – I have Brendan back but recently there have been reports that his time is up, after a subpar year and no tackles on special teams in the postseason. I have been writing him off for the past couple years so it isn’t surprising, he will be 37 by the time the season starts and it is amazing he lasted this long. I would guess his spot will be replaced by one of the late round picks I have as an IR stash, or a low level free agent.

Injured Reserve – I have 2 late round selections (6th and 7th comp pick) as guys who will mysteriously come down with injuries in training camp, like a few very raw late round rookies seem to every year. If McClain is cut one could take his spot on the 53 man roster. Call it an educated guess.

So there it is. Remember how this team was going to be decimated by the cap, and how we are in so much trouble? How there was no way we keep the core of our players from the Super Bowl team, and mass cuts would be made? How we are so bad off in cap shape that there was no way we could field a competitive team in 2013? Not the case at all.

One simple fact remains year after year with the Baltimore Ravens, as long as Ozzie Newsome and company keeps hitting home runs in the draft, and has a roster full of rookies producing for very little cap dollars, this train is going to keep on rolling along. Great drafting enables teams to keep established veterans, and go to the playoffs year after year with “deep depth” on the roster. Just Like the Ravens have for the past 5 years, and barring unforeseen circumstances will make it 6 consecutive trips in 2013.

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Ed Reed announces he is playing in 2013, what that means moving forward

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Legendary Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed put all the media speculation to rest today, when he announced that he will in fact be playing the 2013 season in the first Q and A session in the lead up to Super Bowl XLVII. Many immediately said that was great to hear, but questioned if he would be playing in a Ravens uniform, or for another NFL team considering his impending free agency. Of course, immediate panic ensued about how team x y or z will be paying him huge money and he is all but gone from the Ravens organization.

Not so fast.

Let’s look at the facts of the situation. Reed will be 35 years old when the 2013 season starts, an age when most players and long gone from their NFL career. He has also battled nerve impingement issues in his neck the past few years, and missed significant time because of the injury. As anyone who watches Reed can tell you, at this point in his career he is a deep coverage safety only, and does little to nothing to help in the run game.

Now don’t get me wrong, Reed is STILL one of the best centerfielders in the league and strikes fear in opposing QB’s, but teams just aren’t going to line up to pay a 35 year old anything in the NFL unless it is a HOF quarterback. It just doesn’t happen, no matter how great the player once was or still is perceived to be.

Look no further than the last Ray Lewis free agency ordeal, I remember it very well. Ray was going into his age 35 season, had no real injury concerns unlike Reed, and guess what he found out when he hit the open market? That the team in Baltimore valued him more than the other 31 teams in the league, by a wide margin. His representation tried to do his best to drum up interest, leak false stories to the media about the infamous “$25 million guaranteed” on the table from the Dallas Cowboys, but in the end it was all smoke and mirrors to create a market that just wasn’t there.

The simple fact of the matter is at 35 years old you are living on borrowed time in the NFL, even as one of the all time greats like Lewis and Reed. Teams just are not going to commit the type of guaranteed money or years that everyone thinks with a player of that age. A player with a long history of neck issues to add on top of that? Not happening. I mean who would have thought that one of the greatest defensive players of all time would have to come crawling back to the Ravens in the end after his free agency tour? The Ravens sure did.

Another situation that is eerily similar to that of Reed and can be looked at as a reference point, is  when safety Brian Dawkins became a free agent at age 35 after an illustrious career with the Eagles. Ironically Dawkins was also dealing with a neck injury, but Denver took a gamble signing him to a 5 year 17.5 million contract (in reality it was a 2 year deal for $9 million with a bunch of incentives built in). They gave him 7.2 million guaranteed, and he gave them one good season and was pretty much done after that. He battled injuries his last 2 years with Denver, barely got on the field and eventually retired.

That said, the Dawkins contract could very well be used as a template for a deal Reed might get. The comparisons between the two players are strikingly similar right down to the injury, age and how beloved each are in the city they played in. A 5 year deal for around that $17 million number, with some incentives added in if he does happen to defy father time, is a very real possibility. If the Ravens gave him the $7.2 million in guarantees Dawkins got, they could easily protect themselves if Reed for whatever reason didn’t last much longer. Also, a deal like that would give Reed the opportunity to earn much more if he did stay healthy for a few more years. Obviously this is not the type of deal Reed wants, but as mentioned earlier he has very little leverage for more money at this point in his career.

One other option that has been talked about is the franchise tag for Reed, which is only 6.8 million for the  franchise tag, and 5.9 million for the transition tag at the safety position. The problem with that is Reed, whose cap number was 8.5 million in 2012, would get 120% of that number if the Ravens placed the franchise or transition tag on him.

The rule is that whatever the higher number is, either the average of the top 5 salaries at the players position, OR 120% of the previous years salary, is what the tag cap number will be. In Reed’s case the 120% is much higher, so his cap number under the franchise tag would be 10.2 million. So for anyone who entertained the notion of the franchise tag, at 10.2 million it obviously is not an option for Reed.

The Ravens will proceed exactly how they approached the Lewis free agency, tell Reed to go out and see exactly what the market will bear for his services, and then come back and negotiate based on the interest he receives. Just like with Lewis the Ravens know that Reed will be sorely disappointed in what he hears from other teams, realize his legacy in Baltimore carries a value that no other team can put a number on, and that the he has the most value in Baltimore where the Ravens will covet him the most.

This game can be very unkind to older players, even the all time greats. Usually what they think they are still worth at age 35, and what they are actually worth is usually two completely different stories. Teams would rather invest the time and money in a much younger guy who might be on the team for 10 years, not one or two. Anything can happen of course, and some team could defy all logic and break out the checkbook, but history suggests that is extremely unlikely for a player of Reed’s “experience”.

Let’s just hope that experience pays dividends on Super Bowl Sunday, I have a feeling it might. And it would certainly help Reed’s case for more money, that is for sure. But probably just a little bit.

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Ravens fire offensive coordinator Cam Cameron

ImageWell it appears that a scapegoat has finally been found for the Ravens struggles lately, and that person is former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. In a shocking move late in the season, Cameron was fired by the Ravens this morning ending his tenure in Baltimore. It is a move that is odd considering the timing and current solid position in the playoff hunt.

Now I normally try to choose my words carefully, and give the Ravens front office the benefit of the doubt in almost every situation, but today that changes. They are one of the best run organizations in the entire league, but if they think that Cam Cameron was the root of their problems recently I beg to differ.

Cam Cameron doesn’t get beat like a drum every week like Michael Oher does, causing us to lose two games essentially like he has the past 2 weeks letting a defensive end blow right by him and “Blind Side” Flacco. Cam Cameron doesn’t have anything to do with half of our starting defense on the sideline with injuries, including 3 ALL Pro’s in Webb, Lewis and Suggs. Cam Cameron doesn’t make Torry Smith lose his ball skills over the past 3 weeks and drop every deep pass that is dropped right in his hands negating game changing plays. And last of all, Cam Cameron isn’t the hard head that refuses to go back to the Oline combination that should have taken us to the Super Bowl in 2011, because he doesn’t personally like a player on our roster.

Cam Cameron is the least of this team’s problems right now, but I guess when the root of the problem is ignored someone needs to get the blame. I think it is a classless move by the front office, and honestly don’t know how Cam is responsible for the Ravens current woes. Could the play calling be better? Of course.  Could we give the ball to Ray Rice a little more? Sure could. But can anyone honestly say that if we had a different offensive coordinator we win the last 2 weeks? Does Jim Caldwell  or a different offensive coordinator teach Michael Oher how to block, Torrey Smith how to catch the deep ball, magically heal all our defensive stars who are hurt, or make the decision to put the best five offensive lineman on the field?

Look no one is perfect and Cam sure has his flaws, but this team right now has many more. Obviously “you can’t fire the players” as they say, but until the performance and injury situation improves on the field this team is still going to struggle. With the salary cap in the NFL you simply can’t afford to have multiple stars sitting on the sideline and still be effective, the depth just isn’t there. On offense until Head Coach John Harbaugh realizes he is going to have to swallow his oft hurt pride and put Bryant McKinnie back in the lineup, the offensive line is going to suck and breakdowns are going to cause drives to stall, or strip sacks to happen costing us wins.

I just hope with this major change in coaching, that a few players are held accountable on the offensive side of the ball as well. With an apparent serious injury to Marshal Yanda John Harbaugh may not have a choice in the matter anymore, which may be a good thing because he has made the wrong choice since training camp by keeping this terrible offensive line intact, while a 6’8 330lb former Pro Bowl tackle (who excels at pass blocking!)rots on the bench for no apparent reason.

Maybe that is Cam Cameron’s fault too.

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Is it time to insert Bryant McKinnie back into the starting lineup?

ImageLost in all the excitement of a dramatic overtime win yesterday in San Diego, was the fact that once again the offensive line was woefully ineffective in the running and passing game and if not for some late game heroics by Ray Rice, would have been the main contributor in the team’s third loss of the season. This is starting to become a pattern as the musical chairs approach that John Harbaugh and the coaching staff have used at left guard, in an apparent attempt to keep veteran Bryant McKinnie off the field by any means necessary, has been a colossal failure so far in 2012.

The line has regressed, and no matter what combination Harbaugh and the coaching staff has chosen running back Ray Rice, along with quarterback Joe Flacco have struggled mightily at times due to the poor performance of the unit.  The player grading site Pro Football Focus had the McKinnie led Ravens offensive line ranked in the top 10 for 2011, but in 2012 they have fallen down to  17th overall. I think it is safe to say that anyone with two eyeballs can see this offensive line has struggled in one way or the other all year long, and the constant upheaval on the left side is a big contributing factor.

First it was an unheralded 6th round pick Ramon Harewood at left guard, who started out fine but then regressed quickly and has not even been active the past two games. Then it was Bobbie Williams, the wily old veteran who has battled ankle injuries the past year or so and at 36 years old is probably on his last legs, trying to fill the hole on the left side. He lasted a few games, and was eventually pulled for performance reasons. Finally it has been former 3rd round pick Jah Reid at the left guard spot the past 2 games, who has looked completely overmatched and out of his element thus far.

I think it is safe to say at this point, nothing has worked. For the better part of the season and game yesterday Ray Rice has had no holes to run through, with the line getting pushed back on a regular basis. Rice does his most damage in space, but when the line of scrimmage is pushed into the backfield repeatedly there isn’t much even a great back like Rice can do. Joe Flacco routinely deals with the pocket collapsing around him, leading to near fumbles and the offense stalling out on drives putting the defense back on the field for long stretches.

What is the solution?  Well that could be a very easy question to answer, but it seems like from all the evidence so far the coaching staff and John Harbaugh specifically want no part of it. 2011 starting left tackle Bryant McKinnie went through a much publicized drama this past training camp about his failure to report on time, and then had a fallout with the coaching staff which almost led to him being released as final roster cuts were being made. Cooler heads prevailed and McKinnie was brought back at a reduced salary, but it was clear the man in charge on the field did not want him around anymore. One only has to wonder if GM Ozzie Newsome pulled Harbaugh back a little bit from that stance, because it sure seemed like if it was up to Harbaugh he would have been gone back in August.

Let’s face it, McKinnie was never a “Harbaugh guy”. His fickle attitude, perceived lack of commitment, and overall demeanor has rubbed the staff the wrong way since he got here. Despite those issues, McKinnie started at left tackle in 2011 and played decently, helping Ray Rice to his most productive season of his career and the Ravens to their deepest playoff run in the Harbaugh era.

Despite his respectable showing in 2011, the coaching staff has made their displeasure for McKinnie known repeatedly in oh so subtle ways, and have relegated this former starting left tackle to a “jumbo package” role that has him seeing the field for only a handful of times a game if that. He is pretty much an afterthought in the coach’s eyes and seems to be getting pushed out of any type of significant role, with the staff looking at his expiring contract and his impending departure as a reason to phase him out of the lineup.

It seems like while McKinnie could almost certainly help this offensive line, and put players like Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele back in their natural positions, there is an outright refusal to have McKinnie be any part of this group in 2012. With the many offensive line questions John Harbaugh faces every week I think you would be hard pressed to find him mention McKinnie’s name one single time so far this year. It is almost like he is on the team, but he isn’t on the team. Persona non grata in Casa de Harbaugh.

The coaching staff and front office seem to be dead set on Michael Oher as their left tackle for now and the future, despite his constant struggles on the that side. Now don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t an All Pro on the right side but his play was markedly better for the 3 years he was over there compared to his struggles on the left side in those opportunities. Oher continues to struggle with speed rushers, and his wide powerful build would seem to suit him better on the right side versus left.

Kelechi Osemele seemed to be projected at the starting LG spot coming into training camp, until “McKinnie-Gate”  forced a young but promising rookie into a role at right tackle he just doesn’t seem to be ready for. Osemele has a lot of talent, but also a lot to learn and his play lately has looked like that of a rookie that needs a bit more experience before handling that role effectively. Instead of the steady improvement you would expect from a rookie as the season wears on, he like others have seemed to regress in his starting right tackle role.

So I guess this begs the question, when you go through four different offensive line combinations looking for a solution, why hasn’t the most obvious one been tried out? The one that worked for 19 games (and almost 20) last year, when the Ravens were a dropped pass away from the Super Bowl? Am I missing something here? I don’t think so but it appears the staff is….for whatever reason. It seems like pure stubbornness by the coaches, one in particular I am guessing, in what seems to be a fairly obvious possible solution.

Now Coach Harbaugh could prove me wrong and make a shake up this week when our bitter rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers stroll into town, but I won’t be holding my breathe for that one. Harbaugh has shown that if you get on his bad side, it is hard to get back in his good graces. Promising linebacker Dannell Ellerbe who has shown flashes consistently the past 3 years, got in the doghouse after a preseason excessive celebration situation, and if it wasn’t for an injury to Ray Lewis might still be there today. While I completely understand the need for everyone to “buy in” to the team mentality, sometimes you have to put the best players on the field even if he doesn’t have the perfect makeup you are looking for in your players.

Whatever happens the rest of the way I think for this offense to take the next step, the offensive line needs a massive improvement. Every single option has been exhausted, except the most obvious one  inserting McKinnie back at the left tackle spot. The performance of the unit surely can’t get much worse, that is for sure. I guess the biggest question is what do you have to lose?

The answer might just be a Super Bowl.

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What is a number? Looking Deeper at the Ravens Defensive Numbers

As I am sure you have heard on various media outlets, radio talk shows and other assorted sports commentary venues, the Ravens defense is TERRIBLE. Can’t get any worse! Ranked 26th in yardage in the league, what is going on they ask? Well, there is some truth in those statements, but in reality the numbers don’t tell the entire story without some context. Many people look at “totals” when it comes to NFL stats, ignoring what is really important…..averages, or snap efficiency.

For example if Joe Flacco throws for 350 yards, but it takes him 60 attempts to do so, that isn’t very efficient use of his opportunities. Conversely if Flacco throws for 350 yards, but it only takes 40 attempts to do so, that is a vastly different circumstance. The same can be applied to team statistics, on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. If you were to take a quick glance at the stats most media and fans reference, you would see that the Ravens defense is ranked 26th overall, giving up 396 yards per game. Terrible, right? Well, kind of. A little deeper look at the numbers shows that while they are struggling compared to years past, they are nowhere near as bad as most make them out to be.

First of all looking at the overall snap counts, you will see that the Ravens have more opponent snaps than anyone in the entire league at 428. That is a significant difference, as the league average is only 351 snaps on defense. So the Ravens have faced 71 more snaps than average on the defensive side of the ball, leading to a very skewed “total” yardage number for the year. Currently the Ravens have allowed 5.56 yards per play on defense, which places them directly in the middle of the pack at 16th overall. Definitely not what we are used to here in Baltimore, but certainly not the worst defense in the league by a long shot.

The same is true when looking at specific areas of the defense, such as the run/pass defense numbers. On run defense the Ravens have been gashed the past 2 weeks, but when looking at the overall numbers for the entire season, once again it just isn’t nearly as bad as one could make it out to be. But they are ranked 28th, giving up 136.5 yards per game! Once again, very misleading. Opponents have run the ball a mind boggling 213 times vs the Ravens, with the next closest team at 194 attempts against, and a league average of only 152 attempts. In 2011 when the run defense was stout as ever, we finished the year allowing 3.5 yards per carry, good for a 2nd overall ranking. This year, we are allowing 3.8 yards per carry, which put them in a tie for 10th overall. That is right, by the real efficiency numbers we are still a top 10 run defense.

Moving to the pass defense, this is the real area of concern moving forward, but again it just isn’t as bad as the “total” numbers make them out to be. Currently if you go by the basic numbers, they have allowed a “total” of 1561 yards, tied for 26th overall. Looking deeper at the opposing snap count, The Ravens have allowed 7.6 yards per attempt, putting them at a slightly more respectable tie for 19th overall. Not a big difference, but notable nonetheless. Last year the Ravens finished allowing a stingy 6.4 yards per attempt, 3rd overall. There is no doubt the lack of a pass rush with the Terrell Suggs injury has seriously affected this unit, who is relying more on heavy blitzing to get quarterback pressure leaving the back end vulnerable to the pass.

Looking at the total overall yards per play for the entire defense, it works out to 5.56 yards per play. As I stated earlier, that puts them smack in the middle of the pack at 16th overall. If you use the league average of 351 snaps so far this year, their yardage total drops to 1,952 yards, which would put them again at 16th overall, not 28th. Last year the Ravens allowed 4.84 yards per play, finishing 3rd overall in that department.

When looking for a reason for this disparity of snaps relative to the rest of the league, there are a couple factors. The first one is offensive efficiency, yards per play ran on offense. The teams with higher offensive efficiency numbers are offenses that are on the field less, creating more snaps for their defense. in 2012 the Ravens offense has taken a giant leap, as their total offensive efficiency is 3rd overall at 6.51 yards per play. The second factor is the use of the “no huddle” offense. Teams like the Ravens who use the up tempo offense will obviously take less time on offensive drives, again leading to more opportunities for the opposing offense. The offense has used the big play ability of Torrey Smith, and a more “quick strike” approach on offense compared to previous years.

The basic point I am trying to make is that when using statistics to make judgements, totals are often very misleading when used without the context of how many opportunities a team or player has had to accumulate those numbers. When you calculate the QB rating, you don’t plug in the yards per GAME, you plug in the yards per attempt. Why? Because yards per game is useless and tells us nothing when trying to get a real idea of how well a certain player played.

The Ravens defense has some serious concerns, especially with the recent loss of Lardarius Webb and possibly Ray Lewis for the foreseeable future. Add in the absence of Terrell Suggs with his return in question, and it is easy to see why some fans are on the proverbial ledge ready to jump. But the reality is that with the way the offense has improved, a middle of the road defense might be all we need to make another deep run at a Super Bowl in 2012. And that is what they are, far from one of the worst as some would lead you to believe.

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