Greg Cooper / USA Today

Browns Salary Cap: Baltimore Ravens Edition

Our look at the salary cap situations around the AFC North continues this week with an in-depth analysis of the Baltimore Ravens' 2015 financial status.

Rounding out our look at the salary cap situations in the AFC North are the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens have long been known for drafting well, which keeps their cash payouts low. But they aren’t a thrifty team—the Ravens have little hesitation about paying the players who are worth it.

As such, the Ravens are currently set to have just over $8.8 million in cap space after taking into account their current top-51 contracts. Of their over $136 million in top-51 spending this year, 10.03 percent of the Ravens’ cap space is taken up by the contract of quarterback Joe Flacco. Flacco, who received a six-year, $120.6 million contract on the heels of leading his team to a Super Bowl victory in 2013, has a cap hit of $14.55 million this year. No other contract even comes close. Their second-highest cap commitment this year belongs to cornerback Lardarius Webb , at $9.25 million and then offensive guard Marshal Yanda, at $8.45 million.

While it’s true that recent successes in the NFL draft have led the Ravens to possessing an affordable crop of players, that draft-day success takes its toll years later. Contracts are coming due in 2016, including Yanda’s, linebacker Courtney Upshaw’s, and kicker Justin Tucker’s. Tucker could be a franchise tag candidate next year, but with the New England Patriots setting the market for the league’s top kickers by giving Stephen Gostkowksi a four-year, $17.2 million contract earlier this month, we now have some idea of the kind of deal Tucker is looking for.

Meanwhile, Yanda is one of the NFL’s very best offensive linemen; letting him walk away a free agent could have a negative ripple effect on the entire line, especially with fellow guard Kelechi Osemele also a free agent next year.

The Ravens could have been in better financial shape to deal with their looming free agent situation. But instead they are saddled with $20.9 million in dead money this year, primarily due to the cap hits of unemployed running back Ray Rice ($9.5 million) and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata ($7.5 million), who they traded to the Detroit Lions earlier in the year. At least Ngata won’t count against the Ravens’ cap next year, but the same cannot be said for Rice, who has a dead money charge of $4.75 million.

The Ravens won’t be in the top-four in dead money for a second consecutive season, which will free up more cash to spend on in-house free agents next year.

Something else the Ravens can do to make more salary cap room is to restructure Flacco’s contract. In fact, Flacco’s contract seems to be built for restructuring. His deal is of the old-school variety, in that he doesn’t have opt-out clauses that would allow the Ravens to walk away from the quarterback without taking a major cap hit, such as the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals have done with Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton, respectively. But there’s no chance that Flacco’s upcoming cap hits stand as they are structured today. Flacco’s 2016 cap hit jumps by $14 million next year, to $28.55 million and then rises to $31.15 in 2017. His base salary is what rises the most, from $4 million this year, to $18 million in 2016 and $20.6 million in 2017. It should be expected that Flacco’s contract is restructured and extended in the offseason to lower those yearly salaries, while also converting some of it to a guaranteed bonus. This should give the Ravens more spending flexibility or allow them to stockpile some extra cap space to carry into future years.

In terms of the Ravens’ 2015 positional spending, they rank exactly 16th on offense and a mere 28th on defense. The latter is mostly owed to their defense being quite young, and thus less expensive. The former, meanwhile, is primarily a result of Flacco’s contract and the offensive line—the Ravens have just over $27.3 million committed to their line this year, just $2 million less than the Browns are spending in 2015. Meanwhile, linebacker and and cornerback are their two most expensive positions on defense, the latter influenced by Webb’s cap hit as well as the $3.6 million being paid to Jimmy Smith and the former a result of the $7.375 million cap hit of Elvis Dumervil and the $3.95 million belonging to Terrell Suggs.

Ultimately, the Ravens are in comfortable shape in terms of their salary cap situation for 2015. Though it could get a bit interesting in 2016, given the high price tags of Tucker and Yanda in particular, the improvements on dead money and the impending restructuring of Flacco’s deal will give the Ravens more financial flexibility. Much as the Ravens manage the draft well, they handle their financial business just as efficiently.

Money could get tight, but not to the extent that they will be struggling to stay under the salary cap or have to cut key players in order to get their financial house in order.

All contract and salary cap data via and unless otherwise noted.

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