5 Moves the Baltimore Ravens Must Avoid in Free Agency
The Baltimore Ravens have not historically been very active during NFL free agency. Fans should expect that to continue during the 2013 offseason, perhaps even more so than usual with so many important Ravens set to hit free agency.
The main decision up ahead will be which players the Ravens should keep and which players they should let move on. Of course the most important move by far is getting Joe Flacco re-signed. Ideally this can be done in a way that both affirms his worth and also saves some money for the team to re-sign other players.
Flacco's signing or, heaven forbid, his departure, will determine the course for free agency. With that in mind, here are the moves that the Ravens should avoid during this free agency period.
Getting Caught Up in a Bidding War for Paul Kruger
Paul Kruger was one of the pleasant surprises of the 2012 season. With the Terrell Suggs injury back in May, it looked as though the pass rush would be a major weakness on the team unless someone stepped up.
Kruger did just that, leading the team with nine sacks in the regular season. He was almost as clutch in the postseason too, where he totaled 4.5 sacks in four games.
Pass-rushers are very much valued in this league, and just like Joe Flacco, Kruger's postseason numbers upped his asking price considerably. He's easily one of the best pass-rushers available in free agency and could probably command a contract in excess of $40 million.
That's going to be exceedingly difficult for the Ravens, especially with all the money that'll likely be going to Flacco. Kruger deserves to strike it rich after his breakout season, and the Ravens would actually be all right even if he were to leave.
This is because of the depth they have at outside linebacker. Courtney Upshaw had a decent rookie season and should be even better in year two. Suggs was injured for most of last season so he can be healthy, the possibility remains that he could contend for Defensive Player of the Year.
The Ravens need to understand this and let Kruger test the market. Then teams lacking in pass-rushers can fight over him, and the Ravens can spend their money elsewhere.
Striking Joe Flacco with the Non-Exclusive Franchise Tag
The latest word with the Joe Flacco situation is that the team is preparing to use the non-exclusive franchise tag on him. This would entail a tender of roughly $14.6 million for 2013, considerably cheaper than the $20.4 million tender entailed by the exclusive franchise tag.
It is an extremely risky move, though, and would essentially be a giant gamble. With Flacco under the non-exclusive tag, the Ravens would attempt to continue negotiations while hoping that Flacco will bring any offer sheet back to them before he signs it.
Flacco wouldn't be obligated to bring offers back to the Ravens in this scenario if he didn't want to. And though he seems like a team player who enjoys playing in Baltimore, who knows how he could respond to what would likely be insane offers by other teams.
Good quarterbacks are valued in this league, and many teams are dissatisfied with the ones they have. If the Ravens won't do it, odds are someone else with nothing to lose will try to make Flacco the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL. Possibly a team like the Cleveland Browns or the Arizona Cardinals.
This scenario doesn't necessarily mean that Flacco will leave. However, it's a gamble that does open up the possibility.
Instead if a deal isn't done, the Ravens should fork over the extra $6 million and just ensure that Flacco stays in Baltimore. It's the least they can do for him after all he did for them this postseason.
Failing to Get a Veteran to Provide Depth at the Center Position
It's the end of an era in Baltimore and for once, that statement is not referring to Ray Lewis. Matt Birk announced his retirement last week, meaning that the offensive line will again go through a period of transition.
Gino Gradkowski is in line to become the Raven's next starting center. Since Birk didn't miss a game in 2012, the Ravens really don't know what they have in Gradkowski yet. Other than some solid preseason showings, Gradkowski hasn't shown that he has what it takes to a full-time starter.
There's a good chance that Gradkowski will be ready after an entire offseason, but it can't hurt to bring in another player who could compete with him for the job. Especially if this player has veteran experience and could be somewhat of a mentor for Gradkowski.
Someone like Jacksonville's Brad Meester or Atlanta's Todd McClure could get the job done. Both Meester and McClure are entering free agency in their mid-30s and are closer to retirement. They could provide knowledge for Gradkowski while also commanding a cheaper contract late in their NFL careers.
Making Moves Based on Nostalgia
When a team wins the Super Bowl, it's a special thing that binds the team together for life. It's also easy to transition that thinking to the front office and determine to do whatever it takes to keep the players on the roster as long as possible.
As great as the Super Bowl win was, the Ravens can't dwell in the past. This is especially true when it comes to the upcoming decisions on free agents like Ed Reed and Ma'ake Kemoeatu.
Both Reed and Kemoeatu are in their mid-30s, with their better days behind them. Kemoeatu should probably leave considering that both he and Terrence Cody were disappointing at defensive tackle. He's only going to get worse, and the Ravens would be wise to get younger at the position.
Reed, on the other hand, should stay primarily for the leadership role he provides. Yet Reed's got to understand that by staying, he'll need to help the team by taking a cheaper deal than he could get elsewhere.
If Reed refuses to do that, the Ravens need to reject nostalgia and move on. It'll be exceedingly hard to see Reed leave, but it's something that may need to happen. And if so, the Ravens can't be afraid to embrace change.
Bringing Back Cary Williams
Cary Williams might have been the least popular player on the Ravens' roster. It seemed that every week he came under fire either for giving up big plays or for dumb penalties.
Williams is the kind of player who plays tough, even after the whistle has blown. This was demonstrated in the Super Bowl where Williams shoved a ref, a move that almost always warrants ejection.
There was some good in Williams' season, though, particularly when it came to interceptions. He led the team with four in the regular season, and he essentially clinched the AFC Championship win with his fourth-quarter interception of Tom Brady.
It's also worth noting that Williams stayed healthy and was the only Ravens' defensive starter to play in every single game. This especially came in handy during a season where Lardarius Webb, the Ravens' best corner, only played in six games before being lost with an ACL tear.
Webb should be back in 2013, though, and suddenly corner looks to be a position of strength for the Ravens again. Corey Graham has proven to be a great find from free agency last year, so he could start along with Webb. Both Chykie Brown and Jimmy Smith are decent backups, the latter finally making some great plays with his performance late in the Super Bowl.
Williams is a risky player, and even though the Ravens won a Super Bowl with him, they might just be better off without him. As one of the more high-profile corners in free agency this season, Williams could get a bigger payday elsewhere. The Ravens can afford to let him go and instead look to other corners to start for them.