While word did leak of the Ravens' recent attempt at an unusual trade for Jadeveon Clowney, sources said that pursuit was only after another foray to acquire a younger top pass rusher fell through. The Ravens, intent on a Super Bowl push after a 14-2 season in 2019, were deep in talks with the Jaguars about a potential blockbuster trade for disgruntled end Yannick Ngakoue last month, making significant headway in terms of compensation, but the deal was ultimately scuttled for unrelated reasons. The Ravens, fairly tight against the cap (carrying around $6M at the time) but seeking creative ways to add more punch to their outside pass rush, would have sent a second-round pick to Jacksonville, sources said, to acquire Ngakoue for below his $18M franchise tag price tag at the time.
However, the Ravens' cap situation became even more murky when $10 million-per-year safety Earl Thomas threw a punch at beloved teammate Chuck Clark at practice, which after more than a year of tumult and turmoil with Thomas resulted in the Ravens releasing him within days of the incident. Their grievance to attempt to withhold guaranteed salary to Thomas, and potentially recoup some of his signing bonus as well, could take months to come to a conclusion, and Baltimore's reserve cap space to address future injuries and complications was already thin.
Ngakoue eventually was dealt to the Vikings for a second-round pick and other compensation, agreeing to a lower salary in the process. Clowney was another target for the Ravens, but his salary demands -- ultimately a base of $13M -- were beyond Baltimore's reach for cap purposes as well, but not Jacksonville's. The Ravens and Jags hatched a deal that would have resulted in Jacksonville signing Clowney as a free agent, restructuring his contract and lowering it by paying out an initial signing bonus, and then trading the remainder of that contract to the Ravens in exchange for a draft pick, sources said.
However, the NFL overruled the potential transaction when it was presented to the league to review given its unusual nature. The NFL explained to the teams that it would not be permitted, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, because it was determined to be a "trade for cash considerations." Had Clowney already been under contract to Jacksonville from a prior agreement -- and not an unrestricted free agent at the time -- league sources indicated the trade may have been accepted.
Clowney, whose market was far softer than he anticipated and who lingered as a free agent deep into the summer, was only interested in entertaining a one-year structure so as to be able to hit the market again in 2021, and that limited Baltimore's ability to massage the structure of the deal to fit him under their remaining cap. The team considered other options, like a three- or four-year deal that automatically voids after 2020, with most of the compensation in the form of a signing bonus that could be prorated into the future. But with the 2021 cap potentially far lower than anyone could have imagined due to the decreased revenues from the pandemic, and with so many superstar young players in line for massive contract extensions next year, the team did not want to risk a large dead-cap hit further constricting the ability to maneuver.
Still, both attempts serve as a stark indication of Baltimore's intent to add to an already strong roster, and the team also reworked the contract of defensive lineman Brandon WIlliams last week to create an additional $3M in cap space (NFLPA figures show Baltimore with $9.7M in current cap space). It would not be surprising to see the Ravens complete a deal or two before the midseason deadline -- general manager Eric DeCosta was very proactive last year -- or add an additional free agent if need be.