Where the Ravens stand as free agency begins
The golden hour is near. 4pm today marks the official start of the 2014 NFL season. Teams need to have their top 51 salaries under the cap and anyone not under contract will be free to sign anywhere they like. Let’s take a look at where the Ravens can fill some needs as one of the busiest days of the year kicks off and the social media explosion begins.
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Ravens not under contract as 4pm approaches: Eugene Monroe, Michael Oher, Arthur Jones, Daryl Smith, Dallas Clark, Ed Dickson, Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, James Ihedigbo, Corey Graham, Terrence Cody, Jeromy Miles.
Joe Flacco…moving on
Running back: Draft
Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce. Coach Harbaugh mentioned this running game needing an overhaul and wanting to add another RB. While the top RB on the market, Ben Tate, is very familiar with Kubiak and his system, I’d say there is no chance of landing him here. He’ll want to be feature back wherever he goes, and paid like it. The Ravens can probably find a third RB and possible heir to Rice in the draft.
Wide Receiver: Free agency OR draft
Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown, Aaron Mellette, Deonte Thompson. The one guy missing is Jacoby Jones. He is a name that no one is really talking about. He’s not high on anyone’s list. Most talent rankings have guys like Dexter McCluster, Andre Roberts (signing with the Redskins), Brandon LaFell ranked higher than Jones. I would be open to the Ravens bringing him back on the cheap to be the kick returner. He was a pro bowler in that capacity. He can still be a threat to stretch the field. He’s just not a #2 receiver which is why there is a need to upgrade. Eric Decker will be paid top dollar. A little farther down you have Emmanuel Sanders, sure handed James Jones, Julian Edelman as well. But Edelman begs the question; can he be just as productive out of the Patriots system? If the Ravens feel they need an instant upgrade over the current core then free agency will be the way to go. If they are happy with their guys, WR is still a need in the draft with the jury still being out on how Torrey will be used in the new system. Will Marlon Brown improve on his solid rookie year? They would need to draft someone they have scouted and feel confident would fit nicely in the west coast passing game.
Tight End: Draft
Dennis Pitta. I think local fans would like to see former Terrapin, Matt Furstenburg promoted from the practice squad. But the Ravens also need a solid run blocking TE, which can be found mid to late in the draft. No need to spend anything substantial on a TE2 unless they are going to commit to a duel threat like the Pats did with Gronkowski and Hernandez. No sense in paying a guy $5M per to play 15 snaps a game.
Kyle Juszczyk. How much will they utilize a FB?
Offensive line: Free agency AND draft
Tackle Rick Wagner. Guards Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Jah Reid. Centers Gino Gradkowski, A.Q. Shipley, Ryan Jensen. It’s been talked about at great length. The O-line is clearly the biggest need and without a doubt a key reason for the sputtering offense in 2013. They can hopefully strike a deal with free agent Eugene Monroe before he hits the market at 4pm. They could draft from a deep tackle class, or go after right tackles like Austin Howard or Zach Strief in free agency. The bigger tackle names like Anthony Collins, Jared Veldheer, Roger Saffold and Branden Albert are already targeted elsewhere. Adding a guard could kick Osemele out to a tackle spot, which they pondered doing last year before bringing back Bryant McKinnie. Brian De La Puente and Evan Dietrich-Smith are a couple centers that could hit the market if they choose to give Gradkowski some competition. If they don’t sign Monroe, they could aggressively pursue Alex Mack to play center.
Defensive Line: Draft
Nose tackle Haloti Ngata. Defensive tackles Brandon Williams and Deangelo Tyson. Defensive ends Chris Canty and Kapron Lewis-Moore. Looks shallow up front, but in those three positions the Ravens only carried two each on the active roster last year. So they have just one hole and its possible that Cody Larsen can promote from the practice squad. They will certainly hope Lewis-Moore can fill the spot left by Arthur Jones as he appears to be heading to the Colts. A defensive tackle could be an addition but not a pressing need of this team. Unlike last offseason, I don’t think they will find a guy like Canty on the cheap. There is a major drop off between the better FA DTs like Linval Joeseph and Jason Hatcher, down to Clinton McDonald and Earl Mitchell types.
Outside Linebacker: Check
Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw, Pernell McPhee, John Simon. Worry about depth behind the two starters. But no shortage of warm bodies here.
Middle Linebacker: Free Agency AND Draft
Arthur Brown, Albert McClellan. McClellan is really a special teamer, and Josh Bynes can be brought back as an exclusive rights free agent. Otherwise no deal is done with Daryl Smith. Unfortunately the consensus is the Colts set the bar by signing D’Qwell Jackson, and grossly overpaying him with a four year, $22M deal. Daryl Smith has to be seeking something in that neighborhood, and the Ravens aren’t paying it. Jon Beason is a name that comes up as an upgrade over Smith. Beason at age 29 would likely seek a deal in the four year range at about $5M per. Karlos Dansby would have been an option, but the Browns scooped up the 32 year old. For a four year deal worth $24M. Either way, drafting a MLB is a priority as well. Rumblings are that Rolando McClain is ready to come back, but that shouldn’t be a plan. That should be thought of as an added bonus if he can come in, contribute, and stay out of trouble. McClain, drafting a guy, and signing a free agent gives you better odds of hitting a home run. You don’t want to swing and miss when it comes to the most important position on the defense.
Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, Chykie Brown, Asa Jackson. Reports are Smith has taken Chykie Brown under his wing and the two of them have worked out at the Ravens complex together every day. Smith played like a first rounder last year and now is showing the leadership qualities as well. It’s great to see that. I wouldn’t be surprised if free agent Corey Graham ends up in Detroit with former coach Teryl Austin now running the defense there under Jim Caldwell.
Safety: Free agency OR draft
Strong side Matt Elam…and that’s it. Ozzie Newsome wants a “playmaker” at the free safety position. They are going to pay top dollar if they go the proven route for Jairus Byrd. You have to think that the free safeties can also be found deeper in the draft if you’re looking for a pure athlete to play centerfield back there. There are some ERFAs who would fill in the depth chart, but those guys are primarily special teams.
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]