The Ravens offseason didn't start so well. The team lost Bart Scott to the Jets and it looked as if Ray Lewis would leave. However, the offseason for the Ravens has been very good. Here are my grades for each Ravens acquisition:
CB Domonique Foxworth (FA/ATL)
C Matt Birk (FA/MIN)
TE L.J. Smith (FA/PHI)
CB Chris Carr (FA/TEN)
Domonique Foxworth: Shortly after losing linebacker Bart Scott, the Baltimore Ravens signed their future primary cornerback, inking Domonique Foxworth to a four year, $27.2M deal. With the Atlanta Falcons in 2008, Foxworth had 38 tackles and one interception. The comforting thing about Foxworth is that he's never been comfortable where he's played, but still performed well. As Ozzie Newsome put it, "to me that shows coachability". In the first three years of his career, he was very good as a Broncos starting corner, but was constantly compared to the corner opposite him, Champ Bailey, who Foxworth calls "one of the best ever". After leaving Denver for Atlanta, the Falcons oddly put him at safety, a position he'd never played in his career, not even in college.
Foxworth is the Ravens future No. 1 cornerback barring a huge injury and unless he undergoes a rift with management soon, he could play through another four-year contract, as he said he has "dreamed of playing here". Foxworth, a Baltimore native, grew up watching the Ravens play and was a Ravens fan through college. Foxworth is a great sign also because the Ravens will not have to address corner in the first round and can choose either their franchise wide receiver or whoever is the best player available, which will likely be a receiver.
Grade: 86.5 (B)
I didn't give this an solid A because Foxworth may have been overpayed a bit, but he is the franchise corner and makes the draft situation with the Ravens a lot less confusing.
Matt Birk: On April 26th, 2005, the Baltimore Ravens drafted Jason Brown with the 124th overall pick. Brown rose in 2007 to become the Ravens center and started every game for two consecutive years and was rising as one of the best centers in the game. One problem: he became a free agent after a solid 2008 season. It looked as if Chris Chester would be manning the center position in 2009, but not until March 4th, when Matt Birk signed a three year, $12M contract with the Ravens. It's certainly a good deal for the Ravens. Birk has made six Pro Bowls as a center for the Minnesota Vikings and the Ravens got him $3.5M cheaper then the Rams got him; Brown will cost $7.5M for the Rams this year, Birk will cost the Ravens $4M this year.
Birk is definitely a good signing and it also addresses a need, something the Ravens often do to assure that the team can draft the best player available with their draft picks. While Birk is 32 years old, there is no doubt he can still play with the best of them. This is a guy who blocked for Adrian Peterson the last two seasons and even made the Pro Bowl recently, in 2007. Birk is one of the better centers in the National Football League, but it's also a good signing because he is cheaper than Brown would've been with the Ravens. Birk sounds excited to be a Raven, saying: "From the second I got here, I could sense that I really feel like there's something special here. We'll always be from [Minnesota], but this is exciting and a great opportunity. It's going to be a great adventure for our family, and we're happy to be a part of the Ravens' family, as well."
Grade: 89.5 (A)
I gave it the lowest A possible because the money behind it and because the Ravens got a six-time Pro Bowler.
Chris Carr: On March 14th, 2009, the Baltimore Ravens signed free agent cornerback/kick returner/punt returner Chris Carr to a two year, $5M deal. The reasons Carr signed with Baltimore: Fabian Washington and Chuck Pagano. Washington, one of the Ravens starting corners, was Carr's teammate from 2005 to 2007. Pagano coached Carr in Oakland during those years as well. Carr isn't a gamebreaker, but like the departed Jim Leonhard, is a consistent defensive back and a constant in the return game, finishing third in the AFC in kick return yards. Carr is known around the NFL for his great special teams play, but is a solid corner. In his lone season with the Titans, he had 32 tackles and one interception as the team's third corner and in 2006 with the Raiders, intercepted Ben Roethlisberger and took it back 100 yards for a touchdown.
Carr has been high on the Ravens, saying: "I just always had a feeling about Baltimore and how it would be cool to play for them," Carr said. "Playing in Baltimore, the two times I've played there in my career, I was like, 'Man, these are the best fans.' There's no better place to play." It is very comforting to know that the Ravens have three corners who want to play here, as Foxworth said he's "dreamed of playing here", Washington loves Baltimore, as Carr explained: "Talking to Fabian when he signed last year and talking to him throughout the year about how much he loves it.." and Carr, who says the Ravens have the best fans.
Grade: 92.5 (A)
I might have a slight bias to this deal, but Carr provides a better return presence than Leonhard, is a sure tackler and is even a very good corner.
L.J. Smith: Tight end L.J. Smith's reputation in Philadelphia was ruined by two years in which he was injured and as a result, his performance suffered. After placing the franchise tag on him during the 2007 offseason, Smith was very lackluster, with 37 catches, 298 yards and three touchdowns, averaging a career-low 8.1 yards per catch. The Eagles front office elected to let him test free agency. He drew interest from the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons, but after weighing his options for a while, he signed a one year, $1.5M deal with the Baltimore Ravens. While Smith isn't the most attractive option at tight end, the signing will allow the Ravens to run a two tight end set, which will probably get Todd Heap a lot more healthy, which is needed.
While Eagles fans despise Smith now, they can't deny that when healthy, Smith is a pretty good tight end, which he proved in 2005 and 2006, when he caught a combined 111 passes for 1,293 yards and eight touchdowns. If Smith can stay healthy, which he probably could if he is in the role he would be in with the Ravens, it could turn out to be a good addition. Even if he does get injured, the Ravens aren't paying top dollar for him, and 6'6" 26-year old Quinn Sypniewski could step in for him.
Grade: 83 (B)
Most would give this an D or lower, but I personally like the move. It's low risk because of the low money they are paying him and his addition should help Heap get healthy, which Joe Flacco will need.
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