Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 2/21/12
I would first off like to acknowledge that I am awful, terrible, and inconceivably horrible with numbers, so I used the cap space assessment from Ravens 24/7 to get the various salaries, statuses, and potential bonuses  that the members of the Ravens are due in 2012...and the list of conspicuous free agents, of course.  This is rather intended to be an opinion piece on what I think the Ravens should do with the options available to them.

There are a few obvious moves for the Ravens front office to make in order to create room for themselves below the salary cap and ensure a strong team for next year: placing a first round tender on Lardarius Webb, who exploded last season into a shutdown corner, cutting the unfortunate Dominique Foxworth, and signing halfback Ray Rice.  The last is the one receiving the most media attention, probably because Rice is so integral to the entire Ravens offense.  Rice has stated several times that he wants to stay in Baltimore, but according to sources from SI and NFL.com he wants a serious payday--admittedly one that he's earned.  How they'll do that is the question of the offseason for the Ravens.  

If all goes right Baltimore will be able to sign Rice to a long-term deal that reflects his importance to the team and still allows the Ravens to make a strong run to the Super Bowl next season.  From what the public has seen of Rice via interviews and social media, he's not an unreasonable man, and quite literally every report or mention of Rice paints him as the paragon of the team-player.  I expect that Ozzie Newsome (the  Wizard of Oz) and company will try to swing some backed-up contract paydays to Rice--$5 million for next year, then $7 million, and so forth, with bonuses built in for performance which Rice should easily hit.  Many pundits are saying that the Ravens will franchise Rice because the tag's automatic pay is so (comparatively) reasonable--just over $7 million.  For team confidence, though, and in order to make sure they can be safe in going out and making other deals, the Ravens need to sign Rice long-term.  Particularly, by the way, since one of his major blockers is also on the free-agency block.

Ben Grubbs is one of the best guards in the league, right or left (although he plays left).  He opens holes to run, takes on two rushers at times, and occasionally pancakes an uppity linebacker that is trying to rush through the middle.  Until last season he'd also never missed a game since he was drafted in 2007 (he missed 6 in 2011).  The Ravens have two fantastic guards, and it was only happenstance and chronological quirk that Marshall Yanda (the right guard) got a contract last year rather than Grubbs.  If the Ravens manage to sign Rice to a long term deal soon it will give them a lot of leverage in dealing with Grubbs since he is the clear choice for a franchise tag after Rice.  This would really be the only way to keep Grubbs unless he is far more willing to take a hometown discount than anyone believes; there are many teams starved for a good guard and far more able to pay Grubbs through the nose than the Ravens currently are.  In a dream reality Grubbs would get a long term deal too, probably a longer one than Yanda's (which is for 5 years) with some bonuses pushed back, similar to Rice's projected deal.  Those really are the two huge, huge resigning that the Ravens need this offseason.

To make room to pay these men the Ravens will unquestionably cut cornerback Dominique Foxworth, who's spent the majority of the past two years on the Injured Reserve and apparently shows no signs of improving to the point where he'd be worth the $5.6 million base salary he is due.  Cutting him will free up a few million (although Foxworth will still receive $3 million in "dead money") for negotiation.   The retirement of Ricky Williams, sad as it makes many and as complicated as it makes the backup running-back situation, also helps create cap room.  The two players who are more questionable but should be cut (in my opinion) are Chris Carr, the cornerback, and Lee Evans, wide receiver of AFC-Championship drop infamy.  

Really, Evans probably will get a contract restructure, not a complete cut, and the Ravens should get a steal for him since most teams won't touch a receiver that a) Spent most of the season injured b) underperformed drastically when he actually played.  Still, if Evans isn't willing to see the writing on the wall, Newsome proved last year that he has no problem dropping players if he can find a more capable replacement...and Todd Heap, Willis McGahee and Derrick Mason were all popular.  Evans doesn't even have fan sentiment on his side.

Carr is a little more complex of a situation.  He was signed at the beginning of camp last season because he'd been a capable corner that could remove most skill receivers from a game in 2010.  He suffers from much  the same problem that Foxworth had before his body gave out: he has the game knowledge and the aggressiveness, but isn't athletic enough to make the big play and isn't big enough to blanket out a large receiver.  Foxworth received a large deal because he had no mental holes in his game whatsoever.  Carr's deal is proportionately smaller, but still in the millions.  Carr dropped steadily down the depth chart all season, eventually being passed by both the previously-injured rookie Jimmy Smith and the practice squad player Danny Gorrer (who, in the Jets game, managed to shut down Santonio Holmes.)  The secondary was thought to be the big weakness for the Ravens coming into the 2011 season and instead everyone rose well above expectations...except Carr.  Unless Newsome thinks he can get a good trade for him (and he can't) Carr is gone.

Those moves, along with some restructuring of other veterans' contracts, will be enough to bring back Rice and possibly Grubbs, although don't expect the Ravens to make much of a free agent splash.  Oh, and for that restructuring, look to Ozzie asking Ray Lewis for a pay cut...because yes, he's a living legend, yes he's still a great inside linebacker, yes he's the heart and soul of the team--but he's making almost $7 million in his declining (possibly last) years and has more advertising deals than the rest of the team combined.  Money is not a problem for Sugar Ray.  

Even if the Ravens make a long series of restructures and the major cuts mentioned above, they shouldn't be active in free agency.  One of the big questions in terms of acquisitions is the replacement for Ricky Williams, or rather his successor (let's face it, no one can actually replace Ricky.)  Newsome will, and I think he should, probably hold off on hunting for outside  running backs until he can get a better handle on how Anthony Allen and Damien Berry are progressing.  Both of them stood out in the preseason last year and apparently played well at practices--Allen even saw playing time in the regular season.  Trust me, the hunt for a new running back has not revved up at the Castle, nor should it until both Allen and Berry eliminate themselves.  

Second, many people (even at the Ravens' official site) rattle around the idea of a flashy pickup at wide receiver.  Even if the Ravens had the money, which they don't, they shouldn't do it.  A good third receiver--or the lack thereof, really--damned this season, but Laquan Williams showed flashes of promise (he certainly plays with his whole heart...watching some of his special teams hits make you think he's a linebacker, not a wideout) and if he can stay healthy David Reed is actually very good.  Reed has okay hands but is fantastically agile and accelerates at much the same rate as a Ferrari.  Like with the running backs, there will be no early free agency signings, and really the 3rd slot is these receivers' to lose.  

The last really big question area is linebacker.  Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs are returning, and Dannell Ellerbe has (as always) done just enough to be worth retaining, but every other familiar name is a free agent of some kind.  Jameel McClain, who led the defense quite capably while Lewis was injured, will probably have a bid made for him, but Brendan Ayanbadejo (special teams ace) and Jarrett Johnson (perennial starter, run-stuffer and under whelming pass-rusher) are going to go.  Special teams is important but Ayanbadejo doesn't have a drastic enough impact there to justify the kind of contract he'll probably want and Johnson, while always reliable, will just be a salary cap casualty.  His backups, Paul Kruger and Sergio Kindle, are primed for a big opportunity here.  Kruger has already made a name as a ferocious blitz specialist and just needs to strengthen his run defense capabilities, while most reports about Kindle indicate that he's a shadow of his former self, the Texas star, but still flashes the kind of tremendous ability that led the Ravens to take him in spite of the character concerns.  If Kindle can pull himself together and play reliably he'll be the mainstay, but for now it looks like Newsome and company will (and should) take a long look at Kruger.  

A word on the draft: I wrote last year about how high an opinion I have of Vontaze Burfict, and I even said that he was unpolished and imprecise, which is why Mike Mayock is now trying to downplay Burfict.  Burfict is about the tremendous potential, not the immediately clean game, and to be honest I still think he'd make a solid late 1st round pick.  But the Ravens will probably need a center--Matt Birk, God love him, is just about physically done--and will likely take Peter Konz of Wisconsin if he's there at the 29th pick.  He has the talent that lets Ozzie keep his talent over need mantra intact, fills a need anyway, and even has a play style similar to Birk's.  If Burfict slips into the second round, I honestly think that the Ravens should trade up to grab him.  All of Burfict's issues are mental, something that Ray Lewis has crushed out of his protege before (see Bart Scott) or been forceful enough of a leading personality to contain (see Chris McAllister, Jamal Lewis, the younger Terrell Suggs.)  

So, in review: resign Rice and Grubbs, cut Evans, Foxworth and Carr, let the skill position players fight to prove themselves, and draft Peter Konz and Vontaze Burfict.  Those are the big parts, anyway, and this article's too long already for me to go into the backups and practice squad guys, right?

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