The Ravens have decided against picking up the option on Brandon Carr’s contract, meaning the veteran defensive back is a free agent as the new league year begins.
Carr, who turns 34 in May, had a team option worth $7 million that had to be exercised by the first day of the new league year, which is March 18. By releasing Carr, the Ravens save $6 million against the cap, although they also bid farewell to one of their locker-room mentors and one of the league’s most durable players.
Carr has started all 192 games of his 12-year NFL career, which began as a fifth-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs. He spent four seasons in Kansas City, then five with the Dallas Cowboys before joining the Ravens in 2017.
A cornerback throughout his career, Carr shifted to safety at times this year given the Ravens depth at cornerback this year led by Pro Bowl picks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters as well as Jimmy Smith. Carr finished the season with 49 tackles and two sacks.
In three seasons with the Ravens, Carr totaled 150 tackles, two sacks, six interceptions and 29 passes defensed, including a team-high 12 in 2017.
Carr has been considered a potential cap casualty in past years as well, given the Ravens’ salary-cap constraints, but the Ravens value depth in the secondary, as well as Carr’s durability, and then-general manager Ozzie Newsome made clear that the Ravens also love Carr’s impact off the field. Asked about Carr’s future in 2018, Newsome noted that the three-time NFL Man of the Year nominee is “very, very good in our locker room.”
The Ravens, though, had to weigh the cost of keeping Carr against their other needs, given that at this point in his career, Carr is essentially a backup regardless of whether he technically starts in a game. This past year, Carr played 76 percent of the defensive snaps, still a significant amount but the lowest of his career.
Even if Jimmy Smith leaves as a free agent, Humphrey and Peters return as starting cornerbacks and Tavon Young, who missed all of this past season, is expected to return as the starting slot corner. Earl Thomas and Chuck Clark, who emerged as a defensive leader this past season, return as the starting safeties, leaving Carr in a backup role anywhere in the secondary.
The Ravens’ cap situation grew more difficult the past few days as the team put the franchise tag on linebacker Matthew Judon for nearly $16 million, and then agreed to a trade for defensive end Calais Campbell, a deal that will become official when the league year begins March 18.
According to NFL Network, the Ravens and Campbell were working on a two-year, $27 million extension.
In addition, the Ravens must find a way to replace All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda, who retired last week. All of those factor against outlaying $7 million for a player who is essentially a backup defensive back at this stage of his career.
There’s still the chance that Carr could hit free agency and return at a lower salary, or there’s a chance the veteran will find a new home and continue his consecutive-starts streak, which at 192 games is the longest in the league among defensive players and second only to free agent quarterback Philip Rivers (224).
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