The NFL’s 2024 salary cap was always expected to rise, but no one knew just how high.

Over The Cap and Spotrac had projected a $242.5 million cap, up from $224.8 million in 2023. Russell Street Report was more bullish, projecting a $245 million cap, leaving the Ravens with just $8.8 million in space. ProFootballTalk reported Monday that the figure would be “closer to $250 million than $243 million,” one of its earlier projections.

Then came Friday’s grand reveal: a $255.4 million salary cap in 2024, an unprecedented bump of nearly $30 million.

View post on Twitter

More spending power is a good thing for players and agents. But it’s also a good thing for Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta, lending him added flexibility in how he constructs the 2024 roster. Here’s how the new salary cap could affect the team’s offseason renovations.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

1. More room for big names

Defensive lineman Justin Madubuike, a pending free agent, is expected to be one of the Ravens’ offseason priorities. Team officials have until 4 p.m. on March 5 to designate the All-Pro with the franchise tag, which will reportedly be worth $22.1 million. A contract extension would make Madubuike one of the NFL’s highest-paid defensive linemen, but it would also likely bring down his 2024 cap hit.

But, if the franchise tag for Madubuike was the Ravens’ most likely outcome in their offseason plan, they now have more latitude in keeping help around him. Several Ravens who are under contract through 2024 have been tabbed as potential salary cap casualties, and while the elevated cap probably won’t change the Ravens’ bottom-line valuations, it could make their return more palatable.

“It’s good news, for sure,” Brian McFarland, a Ravens salary cap analyst for Russell Street Report, said in an interview. “It might save a couple guys from the chopping block — a guy like Pat Ricard that they might look to release, or Morgan Moses, maybe. Those kinds of guys, I think it might help out there. ... And it definitely helps that they might not have to restructure deals so much.

“That 10 million [in added cap space] is almost halfway to the franchise tag for Madubuike. So it may mean that they can bring back some of your lesser veterans, too, a guy like [cornerback] Ronald Darby, maybe.”

Even with the added cap space, the Ravens would need to make other moves to fit Madubuike’s tag under the cap by the start of free agency March 13. They can create $5.5 million in space by releasing outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, an obvious first step. They can renegotiate contracts — Stanley is a prime candidate for a pay cut — and restructure deals to push guaranteed money into future years.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

There’s a lot of work to be done. The Ravens will also need to carve out at least $10 million for their draft class, practice squad and in-season rainy-day fund. They’ll need another pool of savings to round out their roster with low-level veteran deals. Barring significant departures this offseason, that wouldn’t leave much room for a splashy free agent signing.

But the Ravens now might have enough space to continue their investments in key veterans instead of parting ways in search of cheap outside help. There’s always a benefit to cost certainty.

2. Less pressure to restructure contracts

The more the Ravens can help their 2024 cap with short-term moves — releasing players, trading players, trimming salary — the more they’ll help their 2025 cap.

According to Russell Street Report, the Ravens could create over $40 million in cap space this offseason through simple contract restructures, in which a player’s base salary for the coming year is converted into a signing bonus, lowering his cap hit but adding more guaranteed prorated money across the length of his deal. If the Ravens add void years to certain deals, as they did last year to make the cap math work for quarterback Lamar Jackson, they could create even more space.

Linebacker Jadeveon Clowney is one of five Ravens among Pro Football Focus’ top 60 pending free agents. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

But the Ravens have typically avoided the kind of financial gymnastics that have landed teams such as the New Orleans Saints in cap purgatory in recent years. And, with Jackson’s cap hit set to rise to $43.7 million in 2025 — barring a restructure, of course — there will be even less space for dead money and inflated contracts next year.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“There’s always that risk-reward,” DeCosta said two years ago of the Ravens’ approach to structuring deals. “It’s kind of like, as a kid, maybe you know not to do something and you do it anyways. What I try to do is understand that, what we do once, we run the risk of doing it again and again. The idea of precedent, the idea of putting yourself in a position where agents can say, ‘Well, you do it this time, you did it that time’ — that’s a hard thing to break away from.

“We try to stay consistent, understanding that it might put us in a position where we might not potentially be as good of a team in the short term. It’s just, what does the short term look like and what does the long term look like? As the GM, I’ve always felt that my job was the caretaker of the organization in the short term but also the long term.”

3. Less flexibility in free agent market

The Ravens can’t keep all their best players, but there is usually an upside to their development plan: compensatory draft picks.

Besides Madubuike, four Ravens — right guard Kevin Zeitler, outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, inside linebacker Patrick Queen and safety Geno Stone — rank among Pro Football Focus’ top 60 pending free agents. All are projected to earn contracts worth over $6 million per year, which could position the Ravens to earn a handful of compensatory picks in 2025. (No team can receive more than four compensatory picks per draft unless they’ve been awarded extra selections under the NFL’s minority hiring rule.)

If the Ravens end up turning to free agency to fill out their roster, they could preserve their compensatory-pick haul by avoiding players whose contracts expired. DeCosta’s preference has instead been to sign players who were released ahead of free agency, because those deals do not count against teams in the NFL’s compensatory-pick formula. Three years ago, despite signing Zeitler to a three-year, $22.5 million contract, the Ravens received two fourth-round compensatory picks in 2022. As a cap casualty of the New York Giants, Zeitler did not offset the Ravens’ 2021 loss of free agent outside linebacker Matthew Judon or defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The downside of a bigger salary cap in this case is that other teams have more spending power, too. Fewer cap casualties will end up in the pool of free agents. It could be harder to find another Zeitler available and, even if the Ravens do find one, they might not have the financial flexibility to win a bidding war for him.

Baltimore Banner reporter Giana Han contributed to this article.

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

More From The Banner