And that sum should continue to grow. After Michael McCrary files his retirement papers later this week, the Ravens will save the $3 million in base salary that the Pro-Bowl defensive end was due to make this season. Once the club extends the contract of cornerback Chris McAlister after July 15, it will likely gain anywhere between $3-to-$4 million in additional space.
After you account for the money that the Ravens will spend to sign their draft picks to new contracts, the team should still have $6-to-$8 million in cap space once their roster is set…
One of the many battles to watch closely during training camp, which starts at the end of July, is the duel between John Jones and Trent Smith for the third string tight end job. Both players are talented enough to be the main backup behind Todd Heap, let alone the third man coming off the bench. However, Terry Jones is entrenched as the No.2 tight end because he is the strongest blocker on the team. The coaches raved about how Jones refined his route running and passing catching skills over the off-season, and Jones was a fixture in all of the Ace packages that the Ravens are running during passing camp.
The other Jones and Smith have definite skills to bring to the table as well. Jones has very good straight line speed and size, is physical at the point of attack and is a very capable kamikaze on special teams. Smith, the seventh round pick from Oklahoma, is a polished pass catcher who runs crisp routes, can get separation from coverage and snag any pass no matter how poorly thrown.
Between the two, Smith seems to have the edge. Although Jones is a much better and valuable special teams player, Smith, even as a rookie, is clearly a sharper receiver who can compliment Heap down the road along with Terry Jones. Also, while the option to place Smith on the practice squad is open for the Ravens, it would not be a viable move. Even if the two-time Mackey award finalist clears waivers and re-signs with the team, there is a pretty good chance that some other club would gladly pick him off the roster down the road.
Jones on the other hand is due to become a free-agent next year, which makes the option to keep Smith on the roster for the next couple of years, unless he tanks during the off-season, a more attractive proposition…
You could argue that the most improved unit on the defensive side of the ball is the dime/nickel packages that the Ravens are putting together.
The addition of Corey Fuller and Tom Knight gives the team two cornerbacks, in addition to Chris McAlister and Gary Baxter that can match up against opposing teams' four and five wide sets. Look for Baxter to handle the slot receiver and either Fuller or Knight to handle the No.2 wideout in these situations. Also, the team can counter with another dime back in Chad Williams, who can handle both safety and slot coverage duties and has the speed to stay with tight ends.
Along with free flowing center fielder Ed Reed, the Ravens can throw six defensive backs onto the field who can all hit, cover and chase.
Up front, the four-man line should be vastly improved from a year ago as well. Defensive line coach Rex Ryan has Terrell Suggs and Peter Boulware, two superior pass rushers who can rush standing up or out of a three-point stance, to get after the quarterback from either side. In addition, Adalius Thomas, who is going to reprise his role as a full-time defensive end, can rush off the edge or through the middle as the defensive tackle and Tony Weaver is capable of splitting gaps.
If the team wants to go with a bigger front line, they can play Weaver and either Gregg or Marques Douglas at defensive tackle, utilize Thomas and Suggs as the primary defensive ends, while Boulware would blitz off the corner.
No matter what formation Ryan uses, there is no question that he will have more options than a year ago.