Taking a Closer Look at the Baltimore Ravens' Biggest 2013 Free Agents
The Baltimore Ravens have 22 players set to be either restricted or unrestricted free agents in 2013, some more important to the team than others. With the 2013 salary cap not much higher than it was last year and the Ravens again likely to be close to it's ceiling, there are difficult decisions ahead, just as with many other teams.
Here are the biggest-name free agents currently on the Ravens roster and the likelihoods the team will retain them in the upcoming offseason.
QB Joe Flacco (UFA)
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Clearly, the highest offseason priority for the Ravens is to retain the services of starting quarterback Joe Flacco, either via the franchise tag or signing him to a long-term deal. No matter what happens in the playoffs or what the Ravens choose to do at offensive coordinator, there's no chance they decide to make the switch from Flacco to Tyrod Taylor.
On-field performance will ultimately determine how big of a payday Flacco gets in the longer-term, but in 2013, the money he receives will also rely on their salary cap situation. If they choose to go the franchise-tag route, Flacco will be owed around $14.642 million in 2013 but won't have the trust that the offense is truly his that would come from getting a long-term deal. Expect the Ravens to do what they can to get that deal done, and then, barring an agreement, going with the tag as a last resort.
Flacco's 2012 regular-season passing numbers aren't that much different from his statistics from his three previous seasons. He had 317 completions (compared to 312 last year, 306 in 2010 and 315 in 2009), a completion percentage of 59.7 (it was 57.6 last year) and 22 touchdowns to 10 interceptions (those numbers were 20 and 12 last year, 25 and 10 the year before that and 21 and 12 in 2009). The only marked difference this year were in his yards, with 3,817 being around 200 greater than in his previous three seasons.
This plateau is disconcerting, as is his continuing game-by-game inconsistency. However, all five years that Flacco has been the Ravens starter, the team has made the playoffs—including this year, when the offense had to take on more responsibility with the defense ravaged by injuries—which makes his job incredibly safe.
FS Ed Reed (UFA)
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Ravens safety Ed Reed wasn't all that happy that he wasn't given a new deal in the 2012 offseason, but he said in December that he's not at all concerned presently with the state of his contract, which expires at the end of this season. If he doesn't get a new deal, he'll be an unrestricted free agent, however the option of retirement likely also remains on the table.
Reed was selected to the Pro Bowl for the ninth time in his 11-year career this season. He was his team's seventh-leading tackler, pulled down four interceptions and recovered three fumbles. Impressive as those numbers are, it still wasn't the best season of his career, as he dealt with nerve problems in his neck and shoulder and a torn labrum. The lingering injuries could result in Reed opting to retire, depending on what the Ravens choose to offer him.
The issue here is that Reed will likely determine his future on his own time, which means the Ravens may not have a lot of time to figure out what they will do at free safety. The other concern is that Reed's contract will depend on when Flacco's deal is done. As such, expect the Ravens to make a decision on Flacco and Reed as quickly as they can.
LBs Dannell Ellerbe (UFA) and Paul Kruger (UFA)
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With Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis announcing he'll retire after his team's current playoff run comes to an end, the team will need to keep as many of their veteran linebackers as possible in the upcoming season. No two impending free agents at the position are more important than Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger.
Ellerbe has been both a weak-side and middle linebacker this year, taking over at times for Lewis when he spent 10 weeks sidelined with his torn triceps. Kruger has operated in a "rush" linebacker capacity, starting in place of Terrell Suggs, who began the year healing from an offseason Achilles' tendon tear and then, later, a torn biceps. He's also been alternating with rookie Courtney Upshaw at strong-side backer.
Though Kruger has mainly been a situational pass rusher in his career, the loss of Jarret Johnson in free agency and then Suggs' injury thrust him into a starting role, tasked with stopping both the run and the pass. His 806 snaps have been almost evenly divided between run and pass rush.
Kruger is the Ravens' sack leader this year with nine, and he also has six defensed passes, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He's an integral part of Baltimore's defense, and the Ravens cannot afford to let him walk in free agency this year.
The same goes for Ellerbe, who has proven he can go from backup to starter with little trouble. He's also been quite good against the run this year as well as in coverage, and though he's played only 88 pass-rush snaps, he has 4.5 sacks on the season.
The Ravens learned some valuable lessons about linebacker depth in 2012, and hopefully that will translate to them finding the cash to keep both Ellerbe and Kruger in Baltimore for 2013.
CB Cary Williams (UFA)
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Though Cary Williams was a bit of a liability as far as coverage in the secondary went in 2012, that doesn't mean the Ravens should part ways with the free-agent cornerback in the offseason. With Williams the only corner to play a full 16-game season for the Ravens this year, it's clear they'll need to keep him if only to help bolster their depth should they choose to look to another player to start alongside Lardarius Webb.
In Williams' 1,101 snaps this year, he's had 102 passes thrown his way. Sixty-seven were caught by their intended receiver, for 938 yards, 238 yards after the catch and six touchdowns. He also has four interceptions, as well, with one returned for a touchdown.
Webb's season ended early with an ACL tear while Jimmy Smith underwent abdominal surgery in November to repair a sports hernia. Though Smith should return for Sunday's playoff meeting with the Indianapolis Colts, the spate of injuries the Ravens have experienced at corner this year provides a strong argument for finding money to retain Smith for 2013.
DE Arthur Jones (UFA)
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Though the Baltimore Ravens have a pretty effective group of defensive ends—Pernell McPhee, Arthur Jones and DeAngelo Tyson among them—that doesn't mean they can afford to let one of them walk, especially when it's Jones, who has performed the best of the three this season.
With 536 snaps, Jones has seen the most playing time of the group, contributing (like all of them) in both pass rush and run defense. He's been the Ravens' second-best defensive lineman behind tackle Haloti Ngata, with 47 total tackles and 4.5 sacks as well as a fumble recovery.
The Ravens are still trying to find ways to rebuild their pass rush after Suggs missed time with injury. Their sack totals simply aren't what they were in years past, and if they want to rebuild that area of their game—without losing anything against the run—then Jones is worth keeping.