Free Agents, Draft Picks That Could Fill Ravens' Biggest Needs
The Baltimore Ravens have plenty of talent on the field, but their greatest asset might just be in the front office. General manager Ozzie Newsome has proven to be one of the best (if not the best) GM in the game, consistently nailing draft picks and signing vital free agents to help his team.
Players like Matt Elam, Marlon Brown, Daryl Smith and Elvis Dumervil are some of the players whom he added just last offseason who have become starters and integral parts of the Ravens' formula in 2013.
With the year coming to a close, Newsome's attention will now turn to what needs to be done in the upcoming offseason, and the Ravens scouting staff will be hard at work trying to feed the "Wizard of Oz" all the information he needs.
There is still plenty of football to be played, but let's take an early look at what might happen next summer (and leave your comments about who you think would be a good fit in Baltimore).
The changes are unlikely to be as dramatic as the summer of 2013 that saw nine starters from a Super Bowl-winning team leave, but it will be just as important to the future of Baltimore.
With key contributors like Eugene Monroe, James Ihedigbo and Corey Graham all being unrestricted free agents, the Ravens may need to look elsewhere to replace them.
Here are some of the biggest needs Newsome will need to fill this summer, as well as some potential players who could fill those voids.
Why Offensive Tackle Is a Need
Both of Baltimore’s starting tackles are unrestricted free agents in 2014, and that’s a scary thought for a team that has been held back by inadequate offensive-line play all season.
Eugene Monroe has been excellent since his trade to the Ravens, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 10th-best tackle (subscription required).
Michael Oher, on the other hand, has been extremely disappointing and ranks as PFF’s 70th-rated tackle out of 78 players. He has never been able to hold down the position for which he’s famous (the blind side), and he’s been underwhelming at right tackle also.
If the Ravens had to pick between the two, there’s no question they’d choose to re-sign Eugene Monroe, but that may be easier said than done.
Left tackles get paid the big bucks, and, given his age (26) and excellent production, Monroe figures to be one of the most sought-after offensive linemen on the market.
General manager Ozzie Newsome is going to do everything in his power to keep Monroe in Baltimore, but we’ve already seen that the Ravens will refuse to overpay for anybody’s services (unless they’re a Super Bowl MVP).
There is a very real possibility the Ravens will lose both of their starting tackles next summer: Oher because they might not want him back unless it's a cheap deal and Monroe because everybody else is after him.
Offensive Tackle: Possible Free Agents
Jordan Gross (LT), UFA; 2013 Team: Carolina Panthers; Age: 33
Gross has been excellent for the Carolina Panthers, but he’ll be 34 by the time the 2014 season rolls around. The Ravens could certainly do worse, but he’d only be a short-term rental, and that’s not what they’re looking for.
Branden Albert (LT), UFA; 2013 Team: Kansas City Chiefs; Age: 29
Albert is a very good left tackle, but he may be expendable for the Chiefs considering they just drafted left tackle Eric Fisher with the first overall pick in 2013 draft. Albert is a player who would be the immediate starter, but like Monroe, his price tag will be an issue.
Zach Strief (RT), UFA; 2013 Team: New Orleans Saints; Age: 30
Strief is elite in pass protection, but he’s a below-average run-blocker. Given the struggles of the Ravens' running game this year, his poor run blocking might turn them away from the 30-year-old tackle, but he would be a solid addition at a fairly reasonable price.
Eric Winston (RT), UFA; 2013 Team: Arizona Cardinals; Age: 30
Winston’s situation is an intriguing one. He was widely regarded as one of the better right tackles in the league, but he’s had a terrible 2013 season with the Arizona Cardinals.
That entire Cardinals line has been awful, however, and he is still a serviceable player. In addition, his price may be driven down by his subpar play this season.
Offensive Tackle: Potential Draft Picks
This draft is full of left-tackle prospects, so here are a few first- and second-round prospects whom the Ravens could add if Eugene Monroe gets away from them.
Jake Matthews (Texas A&M) is the consensus best left tackle in the draft, but behind him, there is a lot of variation in everybody’s rankings. All of these players have potential to be franchise left tackles, and the Ravens will have their chance to draft one of them if they so desire.
Greg Robinson, Auburn, 6’6”, 327 pounds
Robinson has played against excellent SEC pass-rushers all season long, and the tackle has been highly impressive. He is a road-grader in the running game and has shown nimble footwork as a pass-blocker.
Taylor Lewan, Michigan, 6’7”, 315 pounds
Many feel that Lewan hurt his draft stock by staying in school, but all the tools are there for him to be a cornerstone left tackle.
Brandon Scherff, Iowa, 6’5”, 315 pounds
Scherff has exhibited excellent technique throughout his junior year, and he’s a dominant run-blocker. He used to play quarterback in high school before outgrowing the position, so he’s a smart player with tremendous athletic ability.
Cameron Erving, Florida State, 6’5”, 320 pounds
The knock on Erving is that he hasn’t consistently faced top-notch pass-rushers. He played very well against Vic Beasley and Clemson, but the rest of his opposition was fairly mediocre. The physical tools are there, as is the excellent footwork needed to excel at left tackle against the NFL’s best speed-rushers.
Why Tight End Is a Need
All of Baltimore’s tight ends are unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. Dallas Clark was a one-year rental, so it’s highly unlikely he’ll be back.
But Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are coming off the books also, and that is trouble for the Ravens.
Dickson has been disappointing this year, and it’s unlikely he’ll command much money on the open market. Unfortunately, Pitta is a different beast.
He’s right up there with Eugene Monroe as the highest priority free agent Baltimore needs to sign, but how much are they willing to pay him?
Pitta is one of a new breed of pass-catching tight ends who can be moved all over the field to create favorable matchups, and most teams are looking for players who fit Pitta’s description.
The Ravens might be left with no tight ends, but they’ll need depth even if they keep Pitta on the roster.
Tight End: Possible Free Agents and Draft Picks
Scott Chandler, UFA; 2013 Team: Buffalo Bills; Age: 28
Chandler is an underrated tight end as both a blocker and a receiver. He’s a dangerous red-zone threat and will be an inexpensive solution.
Garrett Graham, UFA; 2013 Team: Houston Texans; Age: 27
Graham is a very good backup tight end, and he’s seen a lot of action in Houston’s two-TE sets. He also took on a larger role once Owen Daniels got hurt and was a capable starter.
Jace Amaro, Texas Tech, 6’5”, 260 pounds
Amaro has been ridiculously good for Texas Tech this year, catching 98 passes for 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns. The combination of Pitta and Amaro would be a devastating one-two punch, and Amaro could even replace Pitta if the Ravens can’t keep him in Baltimore.
Eric Ebron, North Carolina, 6’4”, 245 pounds
Ebron is incredibly fast in the open field and has killed teams all year by working down the seams of the defense. None of the highly rated tight ends in this class are particularly good blockers, but Ebron is the best of the bunch in that regard.
Why Cornerback Is a Need
The NFL is becoming a passing league, and you need at least three cornerbacks that you can rely on to play a ton of snaps due to the increasing usage of three-WR formations.
Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb have been excellent over the second half of the season, but Corey Graham is an unrestricted free agent. His solid play and versatility could result in another team paying a hefty amount for his services.
The coaching staff has raved about the development of Chykie Brown, but he’s been inconsistent in the limited action he’s seen in 2013. If Graham leaves, getting one more reliable cornerback is a must. Even if Graham stays, you can never have too many good defensive backs in today’s NFL.
Cornerback: Potential Free Agents and Draft Picks
Vontae Davis, UFA; 2013 Team: Indianapolis Colts; Age: 25
Davis is enjoying an excellent season with the Colts, and he’s still very young. His asking price will likely be too high for Baltimore, but he would be a great addition as a third cornerback to play outside when Webb kicks inside to cover the slot.
Walter Thurmond, UFA; 2013 Team: Seattle Seahawks; Age: 26
The Seattle Seahawks have the league’s best secondary with players like Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Brandon Browner. But their depth is amazing also.
Walter Thurmond has actually played better than Browner this year, and he’s set to come off the books next season. If he’s available for a reasonable price, the Ravens should snap him up.
E.J. Gaines, Missouri, 5’10”, 195 pounds
Gaines has enough size, speed and solid technique to become a starter on the outside. He locked down Texas A&M’s Mike Evans when they met, which put him on the map as a CB prospect. He’ll probably go off the board in Rounds 2 or 3.
Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida, 6’0”, 190 pounds
Purifoy has an elite combination of size, speed and playmaking ability, so he’s an intriguing prospect. He’s also an excellent special teams contributor with a nose for the ball, and we know how much the Ravens value special teams contributions. His physical ability could push him into the first round, but he is probably a second-round pick.
Why Wide Receiver Is a Need
This isn’t a pressing need because the Ravens do have depth at the position, but they shouldn’t pass on the chance to add a really talented receiver to their roster.
Torrey Smith has stepped up as a top-15 receiver in this league, and he will continue to improve. After that, the picture is a little unclear.
Marlon Brown has had a fantastic rookie season, but he is best served as a No. 3 wide receiver with the ability to work out of the slot.
Likewise, Jacoby Jones brings his playmaking ability but isn’t quite a No. 2 receiver. Moreover, he’s an unrestricted free agent so Baltimore needs to be prepared in the event that he leaves the Ravens. Adding another great receiver would help out Joe Flacco and take the passing offense to the next level.
Wide Receiver: Possible Free Agents and Draft Picks
The Ravens aren’t going to spend a ton of money on a big-name receiver, so it’s unlikely that they pursue Jeremy Maclin. The one thing that might work in his favor is his torn ACL that kept him out of the 2013 season.
He probably won’t be able to sign a huge deal without proving he’s fully recovered, and he would be an excellent addition if the price stays low.
Julian Edelman (UFA); 2013 Team: New England Patriots; Age: 27
This is definitely more in Baltimore’s price range. Edelman isn’t going to command a hefty cap number, but he would be a valuable addition to the Ravens offense as a slot receiver for Joe Flacco. In addition, it would be a case of helping yourself while hurting a rival.
Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State, 6'5", 235 pounds
Benjamin may find himself shooting up draft boards if he continues his excellent play in the national championship game, but there's already a lot to like about the redshirt sophomore. It all starts with his uncoachable size.
He's a huge target and has used his size to make plays in the red zone and score touchdowns. In addition, he knows how to use his huge frame and has repeatedly shown the ability to high-point the ball and win jump balls.
Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin, 6'1", 190 pounds
Abbrederis couldn't be more different than Benjamin, relying on his speed to compensate for his small frame. Regardless, he's still an excellent receiver and torched one of the top cornerback prospects, Bradley Roby, when they faced each other earlier in the year.