BALTIMORE — Ravens veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin bullied defensive backs during the NFL playoffs, emerging as a hero in Super Bowl XLVII. Now he’s in danger of losing his job.
The Ravens are attempting to lower the $6 million salary of the three-time Pro Bowl selection, and it could lead to his release by the start of the free-agent signing period Tuesday if talks do not progress, according to league sources with knowledge of the situation.
At one point Friday, the Ravens were on the verge of releasing Boldin, who had prepared a statement thanking fans for their support during his time in Baltimore, a league source said. However, team officials remain hopeful that they can retain Boldin, 32, who carries a $7.53 million salary-cap figure.
Because of a relatively tight salary cap, the Ravens are faced with tough decisions involving players under contract such as Boldin, as well as their unrestricted free agents. The Ravens have $12.263 million available under the league’s salary-cap limit of $123 million, limiting their flexibility in acquiring and retaining players.
If Boldin were to agree to reduce his salary, it would create more salary-cap space for the Ravens, who have 13 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. Outside linebacker Paul Kruger, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Cary Williams lead that list.
The combination of their rising value on the open market, the presence of highly compensated players already under contract with the Ravens and the limitations of the salary cap could conspire to drive them off the roster.
Williams knows exactly where he stands with the Ravens: outside of the Super Bowl champions’ budget.
“The Ravens kept it honest and as real as possible with me,” Williams said. “They told me they had to address the Joe Flacco situation first and then the linebacker situation because of the uncertainty with (inside linebacker) Jameel McClain’s (spinal cord bruise from December) and Ellerbe being a key component to our success. Then, after that, possibly me. So we’re playing the waiting game and hoping for the best.
“It’s the cap that messed everything up. It’s a part of the business. Sometimes you lose good players and great players. That’s what makes football such an exciting game, because it levels the playing field. Everybody has the opportunity to add good players to their organization.”
Under the collective bargaining agreement, all NFL teams have an exact amount of salary-cap space each year. The salary cap rose to $123 million (an increase of $2.4 million) for the 2013 fiscal year that begins at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
The Ravens carried over $1.182 million in space from last year and gained another $6.4 million when inside linebacker Ray Lewis and center Matt Birk retired. They picked up an additional $800,000 when they terminated the final year of offensive guard Bobbie Williams’ contract Friday.
However, the Ravens are saddled with $1.8 million in dead money from the contract of former kicker Billy Cundiff, who was released before last season when rookie Justin Tucker won the starting job. The team also has several veterans with high salary-cap figures, including outside linebacker Terrell Suggs ($13.02 million), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata ($11.5 million) and Boldin.
Flacco, who became the highest-paid player in the NFL last week after signing a $120.6 million contract, lobbied last Monday for the Ravens to hold on to Boldin, who caught 22 passes for 380 yards and four touchdowns in the playoffs.
“I’ll tell you what: Anquan was a beast in those four games,” Flacco said. “It was awesome to have him out there. You guys saw some of the catches that he made.
“He’s been a big part of this offense. He’s a big part of why I’m standing here talking to you guys. (The contract) definitely increases my confidence that we’ll have him back, and I hope we do.”
The Ravens have another important decision to make with free safety Ed Reed set to become an unrestricted free agent after his six-year, $44.5 million contract expires. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has expressed confidence in his chances of working something out with Reed, who still hasn’t hired an agent.
The team also has yet to assign tenders to a restricted free-agent class that includes tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson and defensive lineman Arthur Jones.
The salary cap, which is managed by Ravens vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty, is an annual challenge. Of the players with the top six salary-cap figures on the books for 2013, all but Flacco have been selected for at least one Pro Bowl. Flacco, meanwhile, is coming off a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player performance.
“This is what happens when you draft well and you spend up to the cap to try to keep your team together,” said former sports agent Joel Corry, who writes about the business of football for National Football Post. “The Ravens are one of those organizations that knows how to evaluate talent very well with Ozzie Newsome and (assistant general manager) Eric DeCosta.
“Like everyone around the league, the Ravens are faced with tough decisions because the reality is you can’t keep everybody you want to keep. That’s how the salary cap is designed. This is a hard cap. It’s not like baseball.”
NFL teams have options in how they handle existing contracts, big or small.
They can terminate the deal early, as they did with Bobbie Williams, whose scheduled $1.2 million base salary for this year was eliminated. Or they can try to restructure and extend contracts to lessen the salary-cap impact.
Newsome, however, emphasized during the Ravens’ season-ending news conference that the team is generally averse to restructuring contracts. The Ravens did so twice on contracts last year, reaching agreements that lowered salary-cap figures for Yanda and strong safety Bernard Pollard.
“We are not going to be restructuring contracts and do all of those different things to be able just to maintain this team to make another run,” Newsome said. “We’re not doing that. That doesn’t mean that we don’t want to try to go and repeat.”
But the options have to make sense for all sides. Before last season, Cary Williams declined the Ravens’ three-year, $15 million contract extension because he believed he was worth more.
After starting every game and making a career-high 75 tackles, four interceptions and 17 pass deflections, he doesn’t have any regrets.
“My time with the Ravens has been a great time, and we both benefited from the decision I made,” Cary Williams said. “At the end of the day, it’s a business. We won a Super Bowl, and not a lot of players get to experience that. It was an incredible run. I’m blessed to be in this position. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s something I’ve always aspired to, to set your family up for life.”