After rookies, Ravens still have money to spend

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The estimation at the outset of the draft process and the tail end of free agency — after the Ravens had already made most of their moves — was that Ozzie would have roughly $3 million in salary cap to use after inking all of his rookies.

So, as we stand now, let’s see how that figure holds up.

According to Aaron Wilson, the Baltimore Ravens are currently working with $5.488 million in cap space, even after a recent rash of moves on the scrapheap free agent market (OG Will Rackley, TE Phillip Supernaw and FB Shaun Chapas).

Each of the above free agents were signed for the veterans minimum, leaving only two draft picks to eat at the $5.488 million cap number.  First rounder C.J. Mosley and third rounder Terrence Brooks remain unsigned, but looking at the history of similar players, we can try and get a reasonable estimate of their cap hits.

Luke Keuchly — drafted 9th overall in 2012 by Carolina — is one of the premier inside linebackers in all of football.  This is a useful comparison in that both were the top ILBs on the board, and some had Mosley pegged for a top ten selection (the Ravens included).  Keuchly signed a four-year, $12.58 million deal after being drafted eight selections higher than Mosley.  In his rookie season, he had a base salary of only $390k, however his cap hit for the 2012 season was $2.2 million due to his signing bonus.  So, taking into account Mosley’s lower draft selection and the Ravens savvy in contract negotiations, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for his cap number to be below $2 million.  It is reasonable to think Keuchly’s contract would be the ceiling for Mosley.  As a contrast, Dont’a Hightower — the ILB from Alabama drafted 26th overall in 2012 by the Patriots who many marked as a potential Raven — received a four-year, $7.72 million deal with a rookie cap hit of $1.4 million.  As a result, we can estimate a range for Mosley’s cap hit at roughly $1.4-$2.2 million.

Terrence Brooks is a bit tougher to guess, as although he was a third round pick, the Ravens thought very highly of him.  In the past, safeties drafted in the third round have received contracts as small as one-year, however, we can expect Brooks to be signed commensurate with the Ravens expectations.  They apparently had him top-40 on their board, so for the sake of comparison, we will use Ravens fan favorite, Rahim Moore, who the Broncos selected 46th overall in 2011.  Moore signed a four-year, $4.45 million contract that had a rookie cap hit of only $808k.  We can reasonably expect that Brooks’s cap hit will be similarly low, and probably a tad smaller.

So, for the sake of argument, let’s call Mosley’s cap hit $1.8 million and Brooks’s $750k.  That puts the Ravens salary cap about as close to $3 million as possible.  It seems like those predictions will hold true after all.

But, how will they use that money?

The Ravens are renowned for their activity on the June free agent market.  This is not an accident, either.  Players signed after June 1 aren’t subject to any compensatory consideration, and the Ravens are well known to manipulate the compensation system to their advantage.  For those unfamiliar, when teams lose players to free agency prior to June 1, the former team is awarded a draft pick for their loss, while the team that signs the player has one of their losses balanced out.  The reason the Ravens had eight draft picks this year was because of the compensation system, as Baltimore earned four in this year’s draft (Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, Ed Reed, Cary Williams).

But after June 1, that is all out the window.

Many had Eric Winston, the former offensive tackle in Gary Kubiak’s system, pegged as an option.  However, recently, Ozzie Newsome addressed this possibility.  As the Ravens look at training camp with a competition of unproven youngsters vying for the last spot on the offensive line, Newsome said, essentially, that they will never learn how to play at the pro level until they do so.  Signing a veteran like Winston would only further delay the inevitable, and it is better for them to get their licks sooner than later (even though this theory proved ineffective with Gradkowski).  If come mid-August, nobody has seized the position and it is evident that Rick Wagner and Co. aren’t ready, then perhaps the Ravens will sign a veteran.  That being said, there is always a need for added depth, so it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise to see the Ravens sign a tackle in June.

The position that I think is most likely to be addressed is cornerback, and the secondary in general.  The Ravens are only carrying four cornerbacks on their roster right now (Webb, Smith, Brown and Jackson) and although they have three talented undrafted free agents in camp right now, they will likely want more of a veteran presence.  Ozzie’s statement about developing young players holds true for Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson, but you can never have too many cornerbacks, and it seems as though the Ravens will add to their corps by the time June comes around.

So, that is where we stand financially with the Ravens.  June 1, the conjecture stops and the fun part begins.

We are lucky to get to watch Newsome and his guys work their magic on a year-round basis.

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