A plug-and-play starting free safety at $2 million per year? The Ravens got themselves a steal in Michael Huff.
When the Baltimore Ravens landed free-agent pass rusher Elvis Dumervil, it was thanks to a perfect stroke of luck. Their signing of safety Michael Huff, however, was a calculated move that meets a need at precisely the right price. In signing Huff, they fill the hole at free safety left by Ed Reed and buy time with just a near-negligible salary cap hit.
For just $6 million over three years, the Ravens have themselves a veteran safety who can start immediately and who, if they manage to draft or sign a better, younger player in the years to come, won't be too expensive if they need him simply in a support role.
Huff, who spent the last seven years with the Oakland Raiders, played strong and free safety and started 14 games at left cornerback in 2012 after injuries depleted their depth. As such, his most recent season wasn't his best, but a return to free safety in Baltimore should better highlight his skills.
Huff has a career total of 438 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks (four of which came in 2010, his best season by far, in which he was the Raiders' starting free safety for all 16 games), four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and 11 interceptions. He's as strong in coverage as Reed and slightly better against the run—he had just eight missed tackles in 2012 to Reed's 21 (subscription required), and comes at a mere pittance of $2 million per season.
Those run-stopping skills will come in quite handy for the Ravens in 2013, as they work to rebuild the interior of their linebacking corps as well as find a replacement for released strong safety Bernard Pollard. Huff's versatility was likely a major factor in the Ravens' choice to both pursue and sign him.
The benefit to being a reigning Super Bowl champion, even one in a somewhat rebuilding phase as the Ravens currently are, is that quality free-agent talent will be attracted to joining the team at a reduced rate. Though Huff would doubtlessly have liked to make the $8 million he was scheduled to get this year if the Raiders had kept him on the roster, he could have certainly gotten more money elsewhere from another needy team.
However, the Ravens are a very good team, even with all the changes they've undergone in the last month and a half, and the chances are strong that Huff will see the playoffs in his first year in Baltimore. Other, cash-rich teams courting his services can't likely boast the same postseason odds. Now, Huff can join a perennial winner and the Ravens have an affordable free safety for at least three years, shrinking their draft needs so that they're no longer pushing the breaking point.
The signings of first Dumervil and now Huff mean that the Ravens don't have as many crucial positions to fill in the draft. While the Ravens have a lot of picks this year, the majority of those come in rounds four and later.
Though starting-caliber talent can certainly be found in those rounds, given the nature of the positions that have highest priority, it would have been hard for Baltimore to draft themselves two starting safeties, a starting outside linebacker, two starting inside linebackers, a receiver to compete for Anquan Boldin's old job and a corner who could all successfully take the field on regular bases in their rookie seasons. These two signings take care of two must-fill positions, easing some of the draft-day pressure they are facing.
Huff may not be a myth-maker like Reed, but he's more than just a serviceable replacement for the future Hall of Famer—his talent level, presently, may actually be higher than Reed's, at a price the Ravens can better afford.