Baltimore Ravens: Sam Koch
2. OL Gino Gradkowski ($1.574M): What hurts the former fourth-round pick is earning a proven performance escalator, which increased his base salary to $1.695 million. That's not a problem if Gradkowski was a full-time starter like he was in 2013. But there's no chance of the Ravens paying that to their No. 8 offensive lineman. The Ravens gain $1.574 million by releasing him, which is a no-brainer.
3. LB Albert McClellan ($1M): This is another obvious move because the Ravens create $1 million in cap room by parting ways with a special teams player, albeit a core one. The Ravens need to get linebacker Arthur Brown, a former second-round pick, on the field more anyway.
5. WR-RS Jacoby Jones ($750,000): His struggles and $3.375 cap number makes him a possible casualty. But the Ravens only gain $750,000 by cutting him. If the Ravens don't want to pay his $2.5 million salary, they can designate him as a post-June 1 cut. That would open up $2.5 million but that cap space can't be used in March, when the Ravens are looking to sign free agents. Is there enough incentive to part ways with a dangerous returner?
6. P Sam Koch ($2.5M): Some argue that a $2.5 million salary is too much for a punter. But that salary ranks seventh among NFL punters. Given Koch ranked in the top three in both gross and net average, the Ravens are getting good value for him. It's more likely the Ravens will try to get an extension done with Koch, which would lower his cap number. The only way the Ravens cut Koch is if they desperately need the $2.5 million that comes with releasing him.
7. CB Lardarius Webb ($2 million): He is scheduled to make $8 million in 2015, a high price for a middle-of-the road cornerback. The problem is, the Ravens only gain $2 million by cutting him. That's not worth it, especially when the Ravens are already thin at cornerback. The Ravens should try to get Webb to take a pay cut and give him an opportunity to make back the money through incentives.
P SAM KOCH
2015 base salary: $2.5 million
Cap savings if cut: $2.5 million
Why the Ravens should keep Koch: Maybe because he's one of the best punters in the NFL. Last season, Koch was the only punter to rank in the top three in both gross and net punting average. His net punting average (43.3) led the NFL in 2014 and ranked fourth best in league history. Since 2006, Koch's 251 punts inside the 20-yard line rank fourth in the NFL. He's also the Ravens' iron man, having never missed a game in his nine-year NFL career. His streak of 144 straight games played is the longest in franchise history.
Why the Ravens should cut Koch: Some would say a $3.1 million cap hit is too much for a punter. Koch is one of five players who can give the Ravens at least $2 million in cap room if cut, and the Ravens are going to need all of the cap space they can get if they want to sign some free agents. Releasing Koch would free up $2.5 million in cap space.
Predicted outcome: Ravens keep Koch. While some may disagree, I don't believe Koch is in any danger of getting cut. His $3.1 million cap hit and $2.5 million base salary both rank seventh in the NFL among punters. Based on that, the Ravens are getting good value for Koch. If any move is going to be made, it's likely an extension for Koch that could open up $1 million in cap room. It's not easy to find consistent punters. Only one first- or second-year punter ranked in the top 10 in gross average in 2014. And, if there was any doubt how much the Ravens liked Koch, remember that special-teams coach Jerry Rosburg went on a 573-word rant in December about how Koch was snubbed for the Pro Bowl.
So, who will make their first Pro Bowl from the Ravens next season? Let's take a look at the top five candidates:
2. P Sam Koch: You can make a strong argument that Koch should've made the Pro Bowl this season. He was the only punter to rank in the top three in both gross and net punting average. His net punting average (43.3) led the NFL in 2014 and ranked fourth best in league history. It seems like Koch is just on the cusp after winning the fan voting and being a first-team alternate this past season.
3. OG Kelechi Osemele: He proved he was completely recovered from a back injury that sidelined him in 2013 and established himself as the one of the dominating run blockers in the league. Osemele is a sound pass protector, and he made one of the most critical blocks in the playoff win in Pittsburgh when he pushed James Harrison to the ground and freed up Joe Flacco to make a touchdown pass to Torrey Smith. Osemele's play can get overshadowed by Marshal Yanda, who is one of the NFL's best linemen.
4. FB Kyle Juszczyk: He didn't hit the production many expected this season, but that could change in 2015. New offensive coordinator Marc Trestman likes throwing to running backs (Chicago's Matt Forte had more than 100 catches in Trestman's offense), which could boost Juszczyk's 19 receptions in 2014. He was a first-team alternate this season, and it probably won't take too much to crack the Pro Bowl at one of the NFL's thinnest positions.
5. QB Joe Flacco: It would've happened this season if Flacco didn't turn down a Pro Bowl invitation to be there for the birth of his third child. Flacco achieved career highs in passing yards (3,986) and touchdowns (27) in 2014. If that progression continues under Trestman, Flacco has a good shot at getting another chance to play in the all-star event. Before you list the reasons why this won't happen, remember Andy Dalton has made two Pro Bowl teams in the past four seasons.
Elvis Dumervil, LB, fourth Pro Bowl selection: His 17 sacks set a Ravens single-season record and ranks third in the NFL. Only Kansas City's Justin Houston (18 sacks) and Houston's J.J. Watt (17.5) have more. He also has seven multisack performances in 2014, bringing his career total to 29, which is tied with DeMarcus Ware for the league’s second-most since 2006.
Who he beat out: Washington Redskins' Ryan Kerrigan didn't make the cut despite ranking fifth with 13.5 sacks.
C.J. Mosley, LB, first Pro Bowl selection: The first Ravens rookie to make the Pro Bowl, Mosley is the NFL’s only player with at least 115 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions this season. His 122 tackles rank seventh in the league and first among rookies. He is considered the favorite to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and would become the first Ravens player to earn that honor since Terrell Suggs in 2003.
Who he beat out: Tampa Bay's Lavonte David ranks second in the NFL with 141 tackles and has forced three fumbles.
Marshal Yanda, G, fourth Pro Bowl selection: He's the highest-ranked offensive lineman by Pro Football Focus. Yanda is a mauling run-blocker and solid pass protector, giving up one sack this season. With Yanda, the Ravens have allowed 18 sacks (second fewest in the NFL) and have averaged 126 yards rushing per game (seventh most in the NFL).
Who he beat out: He's arguably the best lineman in football, so technically he beat out everyone. But Cleveland Browns rookie Joel Bitonio got snubbed after receiving the second-highest grade for a guard.
Justin Forsett, RB: His career season should've been recognized with a Pro Bowl invitation. Forsett ranks first in yards per carry (5.3) and sixth in the NFL in rushing with 1,147 yards. His 14 runs of 20 yards or longer is tied with DeMarco Murray for most in the NFL.
Who he should have beaten out: Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy averages fewer yards per carry (4.1) than Forsett and has scored three fewer touchdowns than him.
Sam Koch, P: He ranks first in the NFL in net average (43.5) and second in gross average (47.4). Koch has also placed 48 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line, which is fifth-best in the league. That should've been enough to earn him his first Pro Bowl selection.
Who he should have beaten out: Cincinnati's Kevin Huber ranks behind Koch in both average and net average. Huber has three more punts inside the 20-yard line but he has 16 more punts than Koch.
Terrell Suggs, LB: The six-time Pro Bowl player is still among the top all-around linebackers in the game. Suggs is one of seven players with 50-plus tackles and at least 11 sacks.
Who he should have beaten out: Kansas City's Tamba Hali has totaled six sacks (five fewer than Suggs) and 57 tackles (one fewer than Suggs). Suggs is also the highest-ranked run-stopper at outside linebacker by Pro Football Focus, and Hali is No. 28.
@jamisonhensley A few weeks ago u said that Ravens chances of going deep n the playoffs vanished with J. Smiths injury. Still feel that way?— Andrew Kramer (@mercator88) November 28, 2014
@jamisonhensley: The Ravens showed a formula for beating a top-tier quarterback when they ran over the New Orleans Saints and kept ball out of the hands of Drew Brees. Can they do the same against New England, Denver and Indianapolis? That answer will decide how far the Ravens will go. This Ravens secondary still looked awfully shaky on Monday night and gave up too many big plays. The loss of Jimmy Smith, the team's top cornerback, is a major blow to the weakest spot on the team. The Ravens have to be considered underdogs when going against Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. It will be difficult for the Ravens to go deep in the playoffs with this defensive backfield.
@jamisonhensley will Asa Jackson be the starter over Levine when he comes back?— VB (@vbhatnag) November 26, 2014
@jamisonhensley: Asa Jackson, who was a Ravens starting cornerback before injuring his toe, is eligible to play Dec. 7 at Miami, and it sounds like there is a chance he will be able to come off the short-term injured reserve at that point. But Jackson will have missed seven games by that point, so there is going to be some rust. The Ravens might want to ease Jackson back into action and limit his snaps. Plus, Anthony Levine has held his own at cornerback the past two games. There is not a sense of urgency to rush Jackson back into the lineup, although his return will help depth.
@jamisonhensley could you see the Ravens going after any defensive free agents ? Pierre-Paul, Suh, Harris Jr. , Houston?— Joshua (@JRockTWestling) November 28, 2014
@jamisonhensley: All three of those free agents -- Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, Chris Harris and Justin Houston -- are going to be out of the Ravens' price range. Can you remember the last time the Ravens made such a splash like that? When the Ravens spend, it's typically to retain their own players, like Eugene Monroe last offseason. The Ravens are going to add some depth, especially at cornerback, wide receiver, tight end and offensive tackle. It would be uncharacteristic of the Ravens to pursue a free agent like Pierre-Paul, Suh, Harris or Houston.
@jamisonhensley Why is Sam Koch just getting noticed as a pro bowl punter ? He has been good for years— Teon Ransom (@King_Ransom44) November 28, 2014
@jamisonhensley: Sam Koch has been one of the more underrated players for the Ravens, and some of that stems from him being a punter. But Koch would acknowledge that he has been up and down over the past four seasons. In 2011 and 2013, he netted less than 39 yards per punt -- which put him in the bottom half of the league -- and only placed 30 percent of his kicks inside the 20-yard line. This season has the potential to be the best of his nine-year career. Koch is on pace for career highs in net average (43.1) and percentage of punts inside the 20-yard line (an NFL-best 56.8 percent). That's looking like Pro Bowl credentials to me.
@jamisonhensley What sort of extensions will the Ravens offer Forsett and Will Hill this offseason?— Preston Donakowski (@Preston_D) November 28, 2014
@jamisonhensley: The expectation is that the Ravens will reward running back Justin Forsett and safety Will Hill for exceeding their one-year, veteran minimum contracts. That could be in the form or a two- to three-year deal with a modest bonus. The Ravens won't extend themselves to keep either one. It was just this past draft that the Ravens used a third-round pick on a safety (Terrence Brooks) and a fourth-rounder on a running back (Lorenzo Taliaferro). The Ravens don't want to be put in a situation where they are limiting the growth of their draft picks.
@jamisonhensley thru 12 weeks, how would you re-grade the Ravens draft class?— Seminoles Rule! (@jrehm23) November 28, 2014
@jamisonhensley: It would be fair to give this class an A-minus so far. Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley is the top defensive rookie in the league, and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan has proven to be a first-round talent who was taken in the second round. Brooks, a third-round pick, has been a slight disappointment with his inconsistency, and Taliaferro lost his backup job after fumbling this month. Still, as I wrote two weeks ago, this rookie class has already distinguished itself as the most immediately productive in coach John Harbaugh's seven seasons..
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Koch, the second-longest tenured Raven behind Terrell Suggs, is looking to make the Pro Bowl for the first time in his nine-year career. He ranks third in the NFL in net average (43.1), and he's placed 72.7 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line -- which easily leads the NFL. Koch was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2010.
"In my opinion, Sam has been a top punter in this league for a long time," special teams coach Jerry Rosberg said. "He has skills that belie his numbers sometimes, and we recognize that in our building. We love him. He’s our guy."
Mosley, the team's first-round pick, trails only Carolina's Luke Kuechly in the voting. He's the sixth-leading tackler in the NFL with 96, and he's the only defender with at least 80 tackles, an interception, a sack, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.
Fans can vote on the NFL's website until Dec. 15. The Pro Bowl players will be announced Dec. 23.
Sam Koch. There have been few punters better over the past five weeks. Koch has placed 66.7 percent of his punts in that span inside the 20-yard line, which is easily tops in the league. His 43.6-yard net average during that stretch ranks third in the NFL. On Sunday night, Koch pinned the Steelers inside their own 15-yard line on 5 of 6 punts.
Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan. The Ravens' run defense is going to be stout for a long time because of these two young run stoppers. They're a big reason why the Bengals and Steelers averaged 2.2 yards per carry up the middle of the Ravens defense the past two games. Williams and Jernigan both rank in the top 10 at their positions in stopping the run, according to Pro Football Focus.
Lardarius Webb's play in the secondary. He is now ranked No. 191 out of 199 NFL cornerbacks this season by Pro Football Focus. Not only did he get burned for a 47-yard touchdown Sunday night, Webb also missed three tackles. His physical play, especially for his size, had been a strength throughout his career. This isn't the type of performance the Ravens needed with their top cornerback, Jimmy Smith, out with a foot injury.
Third-down efficiency. The Ravens have now failed to convert 18 of their last 26 third-down opportunities. That 30.8 percent conversation rate over the past two weeks ranks 24th in the league. The Ravens didn't convert their first four third downs of the second half in Pittsburgh, and they needed 4 or fewer yards to convert three of them.
Steve Smith. His production has tailed off the last two weeks. Smith has a total of 71 yards receiving on eight catches (an 8.8-yard average) in losses to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. He led the NFL with four 100-yard receiving games in his first six games of the season. Smith now has less than 36 yards receiving in back-to-back games for the first time this season. How long before some wonder whether the 35-year-old receiver is wearing down?
3: Teams that failed to record a sack in Week 1, which includes the Ravens, Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons. The Ravens pressured the quarterback at the second-lowest rate in Week 1 (12.8 percent), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
4: Wins by Joe Flacco in his past six games against the Steelers. He has completed 61 percent of his throws over that span, throwing seven touchdowns and one interception.
8: Number of seasons since the Ravens have started 0-2. That's the fourth-longest streak in the NFL. Only the Denver Broncos (14 seasons), New England Patriots (12) and Chicago Bears (10) have longer streaks.
16.5: Number of times Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs has sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (in 23 meetings). It's the most sacks of Roethlisberger by any NFL defender. But Suggs has just one sack in his past four games against Pittsburgh.
18.1: Points per game allowed by the Ravens since the start of the 2008 season, which was John Harbaugh's first in Baltimore. Only the Steelers (17.7 points) have allowed fewer points than the Ravens.
23: Joe Flacco's interceptions since winning the Super Bowl. That's the second-most by an NFL quarterback since the start of the 2013 season. Only Eli Manning (29 interceptions) has thrown more.
30: Receptions by Dennis Pitta in his past five games. It's the second-most by a tight end in that span. Carolina's Greg Olsen has the most with 31 receptions.
44: Career 100-yard receiving games for wide receiver Steve Smith. That is 11th in NFL history. He needs one more 100-yard game to tie Isaac Bruce.
129: Consecutive games played by punter Sam Koch, tying him with linebacker Jarret Johnson for the longest streak in Ravens history. Koch will set a team record Thursday night.
- It was another sluggish practice for quarterback Joe Flacco. He mishandled a snap from center, and he lost grip of the ball while dropping back (and not getting hit). Flacco did show nice touch on a pass to tight end Dennis Pitta, who found a hole in the zone defense. But Flacco was later intercepted over the middle by Asa Jackson on a poor pass.
- Punter Sam Koch provided the highlight of the day as a field-goal kicker. With Justin Tucker getting the day off, Koch hit from 60 and 51 yards. After connecting on the 60-yarder, he was lifted in the air by coach John Harbaugh. There's less concern about how the Ravens will fare if Tucker ever gets injured in a game.
- Linebacker Terrell Suggs has been having a terrific camp, mainly because he's been getting to the quarterback after beating tackles Eugene Monroe and Rick Wagner. On Friday, he reminded everyone that he can more than hold his own dropping back into coverage. Suggs drew the assignment of covering Pitta and Owen Daniels, and neither caught a pass on him.
- With Jimmy Smith off and Lardarius Webb still hurt, the Ravens had a much different look at cornerback with the first-team defense. Chykie Brown and undrafted rookie Tremain Jacobs were on the outside, while Asa Jackson lined up in the slot.
- Schedule: The Ravens have a 10 a.m. ET practice Saturday.
- Injury wire: Webb (back) missed his sixth straight practice. ... ILB Daryl Smith (groin) was sidelined for a third consecutive day. ... DT Timmy Jernigan (back spasms) and G Will Rackley (head) also didn't practice. ... WR Jeremy Butler (groin) returned but didn't appear to be at full strength. ... NT Terrence Cody (hip) is on the physically unable to perform list.
Could there be more? I don't believe so, based on the players who would provide the most cap room if cut.
Here are the four players on the Ravens roster who would free up more than $1 million of cap space if released:
G Marshal Yanda ($1.96M in savings): The Ravens already have enough holes on the offensive line, so getting rid of their best blocker is out of the question. Yanda has two years left on his contract. He's more in line for an extension than getting released.
DL Chris Canty ($1.8M): He didn't have the greatest first season with the Ravens. What helps Canty is the Ravens are expected to lose Arthur Jones in free agency. The Ravens don't want to be in a situation where they're looking for two starters on the defensive line.
P Sam Koch ($1.6M): As I wrote Thursday, the Ravens would've considered cutting Koch if the salary cap hadn't increased $6 million more than what was projected earlier this winter. The Ravens, though, now have the luxury to keep the best punter in team history.
CB Jimmy Smith ($1.3M): The Ravens didn't release him when he struggled, so there's no chance of them cutting him after his best NFL season. In fact, the team will likely show its commitment to Smith in a couple of months. The Ravens are expected to pick up Smith's 2015 option before the May 4 deadline.
Koch's $2.2 million salary is still high for a punter, especially one who ranked 13th in average this past season. But he's been one of the most consistent punters over the years. His career gross punting average (44.8 yards) and net punting average (38.6) both rank first in Ravens history. His 39 punts inside the 20-yard line since the 2010 season are the second most in the league.
Now, with a projected $22.1 million in cap space, the Ravens can afford to carry Koch's $2.8 million cap number, which ranks 10th on the team. His cap number also is the eighth highest among punters in 2014.
The boost in the cap may not benefit the other cap casualty candidates on the Ravens. Baltimore can gain nearly $5 million in cap room by releasing linebacker Jameel McClain and fullback Vonta Leach.
McClain is almost a certainty to get cut because the Ravens create $3.2 million in cap space. He made an admirable comeback from a spinal cord contusion, but he doesn't fit in the Ravens' plans. At inside linebacker, the Ravens are trying to re-sign Daryl Smith and they are hoping second-round pick Arthur Brown steps into a starting role this season.
Leach, who represents $1.75 million in cap savings, is expected to get released because of his reduced role on offense. There has been speculation that Leach will return because he played under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak in Houston. But the Ravens need to get more playing time for fullback Kyle Juszczyk, a fourth-round pick from a year ago, and they could run more formations with two tight ends than two running backs.
Last March, the Ravens only released two players: safety Bernard Pollard and guard Bobbie Williams.
Under contract (2014 salary-cap number): P Sam Koch ($2.8 million), LS Morgan Cox ($855,000), K Justin Tucker ($570,000).
2014 free agents: KR-PR Jacoby Jones (unrestricted), PR Tandon Doss (restricted).
The bad: Tandon Doss was such a liability in terms of turning the ball over that the Ravens took him off punt returns even though he led the NFL with a 15.6-yard average. The usually consistent Sam Koch finished 22nd in net average (38.9 yards) and 13th in punts inside the 20-yard line (27). He had a punt blocked for the first time since 2009. Koch also shanked a 25-yard punt in Cleveland that helped set up the Browns' final clock-eating drive.
The money: Koch is considered a likely salary-cap casualty. The Ravens might feel a $2.2 million salary is too much for a punter, and they can gain $1.6 million in cap room by releasing him. Baltimore also has to figure out how much it's willing to pay for a playmaking returner. Jones earned $4 million in the last year of his contract, which is double than what other returners make.
Draft priority: Low. If the Ravens need a punter, they could use a late-round pick on one. Their last two punters -- Koch and Dave Zastudil -- were both drafted. But, considering how they recently turned an undrafted rookie into a Pro Bowl kicker, the Ravens know they don't necessarily have to use a draft pick on a specialist.
Releasing Suggs would make sense financially because the Ravens would create $7.8 million in cap space. Some would argue Suggs isn't worth his $7.8 million salary in 2014 -- second only to Haloti Ngata's $8.5 million salary -- after making 20 tackles and one sack in his final eight games.
Do I believe Suggs will be back under the same contract? That's the key question. Reworking his deal would lessen his cap hit and increase his chances of finishing his career with the Ravens.
The team has some leverage here considering Suggs is 31 and fewer teams are going to invest a lot of money in pass-rushers over the age of 30. Plus, there are legitimate concerns about Suggs' endurance (his snaps declined in the final month of the season) and lack of impact plays down the stretch. A new deal seems possible in this situation.
The Ravens are going to need to create cap room in order to sign their own free agents (like tight end Dennis Pitta and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe) as well as a few other additions (perhaps a new center or wide receiver). Baltimore is $14.5 million under the projected $126.3 million salary cap with 37 players currently under contract.
The more realistic candidates for being cap cuts are in the second tier of cap numbers: linebacker Jameel McClain, fullback Vonta Leach and punter Sam Koch. Releasing those three players would create $6.55 million in salary-cap space.
McClain made an admirable comeback from a spinal cord contusion, but the team would get $3.2 million by releasing him. It's almost certain that the Ravens will part ways with Leach ($1.75 million savings if cut), who was phased out of the offense. And the Ravens may feel a $2.2 million salary is too much for a punter like Koch (who ranked 13th in average), and they can gain $1.6 million in cap room by releasing him. Defensive end Chris Canty ($1.8 million) is another option, but the Ravens are already going to need to replace one starter (free agent Art Jones) on the defensive line.
Outside of Suggs, no one else among the top tier of salary-cap numbers are in danger of getting cut. Ngata has the largest cap number in 2014 at $16 million, but the Ravens would only save $1 million by releasing him. The same with running back Ray Rice, who has a $8.75 cap number but represents no savings if cut.