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NFL Free Agency 2015: Can The Ravens Take Care Of Their Own?

February 16, 2015

Usually, the Ravens' free-agency philosophy is to take care of their own.

But when one of their own doesn't take care of his business in a proper manner, even off the field, the team now merely sees it as one less problem to solve.

At his final press conference following his team's elimination from the playoffs, head coach John Harbaugh promised that, in light of a 2014 offseason that saw five players arrested -- with the Ray Rice case in particular drawing lingering national headlines -- the team would have much less tolerance for those who get themselves into trouble.

Ravens 2014: John Harbaugh (training camp press conference)
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox

That approach has come home to roost for one of the team's many free agents this year, nose tackle Terrence Cody.

Cody, a much-heralded second-round pick from Alabama in 2010, has been indicted on more than a dozen charges dealing with both drugs and animal cruelty. He was released from the team Feb. 2. 

The status of potential restricted free-agent safety Will Hill is also up in the air, after the announcement that he is wanted for delinquent child support payments. Ravens management personnel, meeting at majority owner Steve Bisciotti's Jupiter, Fla., home earlier this month, have not announced any update on Hill's standing with the team.

But whether one believes Cody is guilty of wrongdoing or that he was truly distraught over the death of his dog, what's not in doubt is that the NFL can be a cold business, and the Ravens have had to quickly move forward to build on what Harbaugh has called a “solid foundation.”

While Cody's troubles may close the book on the status of one possible unrestricted free agent, the financial books that coldly dictate the Ravens' salary cap when the new league year begins March 10 will be required reading for team management.

As of mid-February, the book wasn't telling a pleasant story.

If the salary cap rises to the approximate $143 million level projected by most observers -- a $10 million increase during last year -- then the $142 million the Ravens have committed to 58 active-roster players would put them at or near the cap with little wiggle room.

This is where cooperation from veteran players has to come into play, especially from those with big cap numbers.

The four Ravens whose contracts take up the biggest salary-cap space next year are defensive tackle Haloti Ngata ($16 million), quarterback Joe Flacco ($14 million), cornerback Lardarius Webb ($12 million) and guard Marshal Yanda ($8.45 million).

If any or all of those players agree to restructure their deals -- and there have been no indications they have yet been asked to do so -- the team could create enough room to try and get veteran free-agent help for the wideout corps and secondary, generally regarded as their two biggest needs.

The team is currently being hamstrung with $9.8 million in dead money, of which $9.5 million is earmarked for Rice, according to OverTheCap.com. But if Ngata were to be released outright, that would create $11 million worth of savings immediately.

Ravens 2014: Haloti Ngata (Week 3 vs. Browns)
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox

However, even if some deals were restructured and several players were released, it's doubtful the Ravens would have the same kind of cap room with which they began last year's signing period, approximately $25 million.

To illustrate how much of a difference such room can make, the Ravens were able to use it to pay key 2014 newcomers such as tight end Owen Daniels, wideout Steve Smith Sr., center Jeremy Zuttah, defensive end Lawrence Guy and safety Darian Stewart, among others.

But to their core, the Ravens are usually slow to enter the free-agent market and pluck veterans from other teams -- like Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall, who reportedly contacted Harbaugh recently about a possible Charm City move .

Can the Ravens take care of their own with the possibility of little salary-cap room? 

Among the team's total batch of nearly two dozen free agents, here are three that should be high priorities for the team, along with three that could probably see greener pastures elsewhere, along with honorable-mention candidates in each category:

Should Stay

WR TORREY SMITH

Even before the dust settled on the Ravens' AFC Divisional playoff loss at New England, Smith's status was one of the most highly talked about among fans and media observers. Smith's supporters have often mentioned his top-end speed, his local tie as a former University of Maryland player and his tireless community work. His detractors cite his lack of playmaking consistency -- especially when it comes to adjusting to long, downfield passes -- and his occasional tendency to drop passes. But there's no doubt that Smith did play a part in one of the best team offensive performances in franchise history.

Issue 200: Ravens 2014: Justin Forsett
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox

RB JUSTIN FORSETT

In a salary cap/free agency era that has now lasted more than 20 years, it's been hard for any NFL team to build and maintain a veteran core, but Forsett's performance -- which basically came on short notice once the team realized Rice would not be available -- practically demands he return. It's true that running backs are not valued nearly as highly as they used to be, and their average career is shorter than players at other positions. But Forsett, whom the media voted as the team Most Valuable Player last year, is a must to retain because the Ravens still value the run game highly, a philosophy that has served them well.

S JEROMY MILES

As the Ravens attempt to rebuild a secondary reeling from one of its most tumultuous seasons, Miles, who turns 28 in July, could be an appealing strong-safety option. He has mostly been a special teams contributor in both Cincinnati and Baltimore, but the Ravens gave him his most extensive field time in regular defense late in 2014. He responded with his first career interception during a 20-12 win against Jacksonville during Week 15. Along with better coverage skills than the Ravens have had at the position, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Miles also has the size needed to tackle better and to stop receivers in their tracks after the catch.

HONORABLE MENTION: K Justin Tucker (restricted), WR Kamar Aiken (restricted), DE Lawrence Guy (restricted), LS Morgan Cox

Likely To Leave

LB PERNELL MCPHEE

The cynical view to take is that McPhee's resurgence in 2014 was a product of his status as a pending free agent. He played all across the field --including nose tackle -- and was a force in the Ravens' rejuvenated pass rush, one that produced one of the highest sack totals in team history. But on many occasions, linebackers have had a tendency to leave Baltimore in free agency for a big payday somewhere else (Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, Edgerton Hartwell, etc.) as the Ravens have never put a high priority on them. This could merely be a product of a salary-cap numbers game.

QB TYROD TAYLOR

It's no secret that any backup quarterback in the Ravens' system has had little to do since the durable Flacco was drafted in 2008. But in his few shots at getting under center, Taylor has disappointed Harbaugh to the point where the head coach has said so publicly, a rare move for someone who doesn't like to publicly criticize his players very much, if at all. The Ravens did make an attempt to diversify their look with Taylor on the field in a wildcat-type offense, but that didn't suit Flacco well. Plus, Flacco turned 30 in January, which means, if he remains healthy, he should have at least five good years left in him.

G-T JAH REID

The Ravens' offensive line got markedly better and deeper in 2014, especially with the additions of undrafted rookie free-agent tackle James Hurst and fifth-round draft pick John Urschel. Because of those two players' ability to be counted on when needed in the wake of injuries to starters Eugene Monroe and Kelechi Osemele, Reid has apparently lost his job as the swing tackle to Hurst. Despite his versatility, Reid has never shown the kind of dominating burst off the ball it would take to be a mainstay on this line. Plus, even though his offseason arrest in Florida took place a year ago, the organization has a long memory.

HONORABLE MENTION: S Darian Stewart, CB Danny Gorrer, G Will Rackley

Issue 206: February 2015