Eisenberg: Dead Last In Cap Space Not A Bad Place To Be

It’s better to be winning and close to the cap limit than losing with money to spare.

Posted by John Eisenberg on Tuesday, June 26th, 2012 at 10:36 am | Categories: John Eisenberg

Last week ProFootballTalk.com published a list of where every team stands against the salary cap, as it does occasionally to no complaint (meaning the information is good).

The Ravens have less to spend than any other team – just $606,000 of available cap space as of June 22, according to the article.

The teams next closest to them on the list are the Oakland Raiders with $1.34 million to spend and New Orleans Saints with $2.27 million of space. At the other end, the Jacksonville Jaguars are a staggering $25.1 million under the cap, followed by the Tennessee Titans, who have $19.97 million to spend. (FYI, the Pittsburgh Steelers are nearer the Ravens with $3.58 million of space, while the New England Patriots are nearer the top with $10.93 million of space.)

My first thought regarding the Ravens was this certainly wasn’t where they wanted to see themselves on the list. Dead last. Heads bumping right up against the cap. With that little left in their wallets, if they need to plug in a veteran somewhere down the line because of an injury or whatever, they could be out of luck. They can’t do much of anything, at least as things stand now.

The cap has been a major factor for them throughout this offseason, seemingly limiting what they could do in many situations. Although they were able to re-sign Lardarius Webb, Bernard Pollard and Jameel McClain, a major investment, they lost a trio of starters to the open market. Meanwhile, their biggest free agent acquisition was Jacoby Jones, a returner/No. 3 receiver who will make $7 million over two years. The Ravens reportedly had to restructure guard Marshal Yanda’s contract to make that happen.

But before you go off howling about how they mismanaged the cap to this point of paralysis, I suggest you to take a deep breath and think this thing through more deeply.

Where the Ravens stand now against the cap is, first and foremost, the price of their success. They have good players. No team has more representatives in the NFL Network’s Top 100 of 2012, and the Ravens’ seven doesn’t include Yanda or Webb, two of their better young guys. That’s lot of good players, and the Ravens have paid to keep them all in purple. That has pushed them toward the cap limit, no question. Haloti Ngata’s deal alone, which made him one of the highest-paid athletes in any sport over the past year, pushed them toward the limit.

It’s not a coincidence that they’re up against the cap but also on a run of four straight playoff appearances.

Frankly, I think it’s better to be close to the limit than at the other end of the list, sitting there with millions to spend but simply not doing it. Fans of those teams have every right to howl. A team with $20 million in cap space is either a) trying to win on the cheap, by cutting corners b) unable to close deals for premier free agents, c) lacking players who warrant big bucks, or d) some combination of the above.

It doesn’t do you much good to have $20 million to spend right now. The free-agent cupboards are mostly bare.

(By the way, there is a salary cap “floor” in the new collective bargaining agreement, forcing cheap teams to spend at least 89 percent of the cap, or roughly $106 million of this year’s $120 million limit. But while the advent of the floor was cheered in places such as Cincinnati and Tampa Bay, where the teams have often sat far below the cap, it doesn’t go into effect until 2013.)

Anyway, the first commandment of the cap is it’s a fluid number, always changing, and teams can usually work around its limitations. The Ravens might not have much room now, but they could clear space in the coming months by signing Ray Rice and/or Joe Flacco to long-term deals that include some immediate cap relief.

One way or another, their cap number will change, possibly freeing them to do more.

And regardless, my two cents, it’s better to be winning and close to the limit than losing and simply not shelling out at all.

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