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Cutting Jacoby Jones shows Ravens don't pay for past performance

Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti once said that the successful teams are the ones who pay players for what they can do in the future, not for what they did in the past.

The Ravens backed up those words Wednesday when they announced that they had cut receiver-returner Jacoby Jones.

As general manager Ozzie Newsome said, the Ravens wouldn't have won the Super Bowl two years ago if not for Jones spinning around two defenders for a 56-yard touchdown catch, and sprinting up the middle of the field for a 108-yard kickoff return. The Ravens also wouldn't have reached the Super Bowl if not for Jones delivering the most memorable play in franchise history, the Mile High Miracle catch that propelled them to a divisional playoff win over the Denver Broncos.

All of that didn't matter on Wednesday, when the Ravens decided to part ways with Jones because his $2.5 million base salary for 2015 was too expensive for someone who is just returning kicks.

This is the first of many moves the Ravens will make to get under the salary cap before March 10, but there really wasn't much of an incentive to get rid of Jones in terms of the salary cap. The Ravens freed up only $750,000 of cap room, unless they choose to designate him as a June 1 cut (which would open up $2.5 million that couldn't be used until June).

The Ravens' decision with Jones was a matter of escalating salary and diminishing play. Bad hands forced him out of the No. 3 receiver spot after three games in 2014. He finished with nine catches (his fewest since 2008) and five dropped passes, and his inability to make a consistent impact as a receiver made his $3.375 million cap number too steep.

Jones finished in the top 10 in both kickoff and punt returns in 2014, but he proved to be a liability on special teams as well. He muffed two punts and made risky decisions (like fielding kicks deep in his own territory) because he was pressing to make plays.

In my mind, the Ravens are making the wrong move and it has nothing to do with loyalty. Barring a surprising move, they are banking on either Michael Campanaro or Asa Jackson to stay healthy and replace Jones. Another option is drafting a returner, although it's a gamble to put a rookie in such a high-pressure role.

Everyone can agree that Jones isn't worth his $2.5 million salary, but many also will agree that the Ravens don't have a proven backup plan at returner. Let's not forget that Jones' five returns for touchdowns (four kickoff, one punt) lead the NFL since joining the Ravens in 2012, and that includes a 108-yard kickoff return at Pittsburgh in 2014.

“We thank Jacoby for what he did for us,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He was invaluable to our success. Opponents, especially on special teams, schemed to stop him. What a compliment to him.”

In releasing Jones, the Ravens were complimentary of what Jones did for the franchise in the past. But the bottom line is the Ravens refused to overpay for a returner for the upcoming season.