For most of the glaring issues facing the Baltimore Ravens this offseason, general manager Ozzie Newsome will turn to the draft. There are only so many draft picks, however, who can come in and contribute in their rookie seasons, so the Ravens will need to acquire some cheap, veteran talent on the free-agent market.
The first order of business starts with Baltimore re-signing its own free agents, namely Eugene Monroe and Dennis Pitta. Neither player started a full season for the Ravens, but they’ve shown enough to prove that they are talented young athletes with the ability to be crucial pieces to the Ravens puzzle for the future.
Regardless of whether those two players get re-signed, Newsome is sure to take a long, hard look at other free agents at those positions—tight end and offensive line—to shore up the depth chart.
There are a number of unrestricted free agents who could help Baltimore, but one important thing to keep in mind is that many of the Ravens’ offseason signings aren’t free agents yet.
Newsome’s love for compensatory picks is well known, and he has a history of pouncing on the salary-cap casualties of other teams. In his end-of-year press conference, via Ryan Mink of the team's website, Newsome said he would have the same approach this summer:
They were cap causalities of other teams, which allowed us to be able to maintain our compensatory picks for the guys that we lost. So, there is a rhyme and reason in how we acquire players—to continue to maintain our ability to stay strong going forward. And we will do the same [this year].
This slideshow aims to provide you with the basic information you need to know regarding the Ravens’ own free agents and possible players they could pursue at every position. Just keep in mind that the players Baltimore covets the most are still on other rosters.
Baltimore Free Agents: None
Free Agents of Interest: Chad Henne, Kellen Clemens
The Ravens have opted to go with only two quarterbacks on the roster for the past few years, due in some part to Joe Flacco’s iron-man durability. The Delaware quarterback has never missed a start, but he came dangerously close in 2013.
Tyrod Taylor’s performance as the backup was uninspiring, so it’s possible that the Ravens bring in a more experienced quarterback to push Taylor in training camp.
With limited cap room, finding a backup isn't a huge concern for the Ravens, but they would be wise to look into Chad Henne or Kellen Clemens if they would sign minimum deals.
Baltimore Free Agents: Bernard Scott
Free Agents of Interest: LeGarrette Blount, James Starks
The rushing attack last season was abysmal, so a large focus of the offseason is sure to be reviving the ground game.
Most of that work, however, will be done on the offensive line as opposed to the running back position. Bernard Scott is a free agent, but his role is merely to provide depth and special teams play as the third running back.
Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are still a good one-two punch—despite what their 2013 statistics suggest—and a third running back won’t be more than a situational player.
One area where the Ravens could use some help is in short-yardage situations. Head coach John Harbaugh admitted that the possibility of getting bigger at the running back position had been discussed.
It’s very possible that the front office will try to achieve that with a late-round draft pick in an attempt to save money, but there are a few intriguing options on the market.
LeGarrette Blount would be an ideal fit for the offense because of his sheer size (6’0”, 250 pounds), power and ability to always gain positive yardage. Unfortunately, the way he ended the season with the New England Patriots (437 yards and eight TDs in his last four games) may drive his price too high.
Another option is James Starks, a low-mileage, high-upside player who has shown flashes of power in short-yardage situation.
Even though running back is a need, it’s unlikely that the Ravens shell out much money to shore up the depth chart, so adding a rookie running back is a much more likely proposition.
Baltimore Free Agents: Jacoby Jones, Brandon Stokley (retired), Tandon Doss (RFA)
An already weak receiving corps might lose three members due to free agency. One of those players is definitely not coming back—Brandon Stokley has retired, ending his 15-year NFL career.
Jacoby Jones and Tandon Doss are also free agents, but their future in Baltimore is unclear. Jones is a dynamic return man, but he’s an average wideout who isn’t cut out to be a No. 2 receiver. If he’s willing to be paid as a returner, he might be worth the money, but it’s also very possible that he gets receiver/returner money on the open market.
If that’s the case, the Ravens would be wise to let him go since his production can be replicated elsewhere on the roster (and Marlon Brown has much more upside as a No. 3 receiver).
Adding a capable receiver is a priority for the Ravens this offseason, but there aren’t many proven free agents who can be had for cheap.
The free agents listed above might be signed to bargain contracts due to various circumstances (e.g., injuries or off-field concerns). Signing any of those players would be a risk, but they could all pay off in a big way.
Nevertheless, it’s more likely that Baltimore uses the draft to add a relatively cheap young playmaker to give Flacco another weapon.
Baltimore Free Agents: Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson, Dallas Clark
Free Agents of Interest: Brandon Pettigrew, Scott Chandler, Garrett Graham, Ben Hartsock
All of Baltimore’s tight ends are unrestricted free agents, and Pitta is the only one the Ravens desperately need to keep. Negotiating a deal with Pitta will be one of the chief storylines of the offseason, but that’s not the only work that needs to be done at the position.
There aren’t any receiving threats on the market that are better than Pitta, so the Ravens will look to the early rounds of the draft to select a No. 1 tight end if Pitta moves on.
If Pitta stays, however, there are a few intriguing No. 2 options that would be used more as blockers than receivers.
For example, Ben Hartsock (Carolina Panthers) was the best blocking TE in the league, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He’d be a nice signing as an additional blocker around the goal line.
There’s a good chance that the Ravens add a tight end through free agency to provide depth.
Baltimore Free Agents: Eugene Monroe, Michael Oher
Free Agents of Interest: Zach Strief (RT), Eric Winston (RT), Jordan Gross (LT), Jonathan Goodwin (C), Dominic Raiola (C), Brian De La Puente (C)
The offensive line is going to be the position group where there is the most turnover—and for good reason.
Both starting tackles are free agents, and it’s safe to assume that Michael Oher will not be brought back. Eugene Monroe, on the other hand, is another story.
Monroe was fantastic at left tackle last season and is still only 26 years old. He isn’t a dominant run blocker, but he’s shown the athleticism and technique to contain the league’s best pass-rushers.
For his part, Monroe would like to stay in Baltimore, based on what he told Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com:
This is definitely an awesome place, and I definitely would love to be here. I loved my time here, feel like I fit in pretty well. I came in here and played well every game, and I’d like the opportunity to do that here again.
Re-signing Monroe is the highest priority task of the offseason, but there is still plenty of other work to do on the O-line.
For starters, Newsome needs to replace Oher. There are some in-house candidates (Rick Wagner or Kelechi Osemele) as well as the possibility of spending an early draft pick on a tackle, but there are some more experienced options on the market who could be had for a relatively cheap price.
The best right tackle options are Zach Strief (New Orleans Saints) and Eric Winston (Arizona Cardinals). Strief should be available because of the Saints’ salary-cap problems, and Winston shouldn’t command much money (he sat on open market for most of last offseason).
Both players would be reliable right tackles and an upgrade from Oher.
But wait, there’s more!
Gino Gradkowski ended the season as the worst center in the league, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). It would be refreshing if Baltimore brought in a veteran center to mentor Gradkowski and challenge him for the starting job. Some candidates are Brian De La Puente (New Orleans Saints), Dominic Raiola (Detroit Lions) and Jonathan Goodwin (San Francisco 49ers).
Baltimore Free Agents: Arthur Jones, Terrence Cody
Free Agents of Interest: Antonio Smith, Tyson Jackson
The Ravens defensive line was fairly inconsistent last season, but it’s set to lose one of its best performers in Arthur Jones.
Jones was excellent against the run and frequently got to the quarterback, but his stellar play will likely lift him out of Baltimore’s price range.
Joining Jones in the “departure” column will be Terrence Cody. Cody is an unrestricted free agent, and he never developed into the run-stuffing nose tackle Newsome envisioned when he drafted the Alabama product.
With last year’s third-round pick Brandon Williams looking good, Cody is no longer necessary as a depth piece and the Ravens may choose to spend their cap space elsewhere.
There are talented young players on the roster who will get the chance to earn playing time, like the aforementioned Williams, DeAngelo Tyson and Kapron Lewis-Moore, but Baltimore could turn to some veterans if the young guns aren’t ready for major roles.
Some possible options include defensive end Antonio Smith, who was a very effective pass-rusher for the Houston Texans. In addition, Tyson Jackson of the Kansas City Chiefs is a versatile lineman who can play tackle or end in the Ravens hybrid fronts.
Baltimore Free Agents: Daryl Smith, Adrian Hamilton (ERFA), D.J. Bryant (ERFA)
Free Agents of Interest: Brandon Spikes, Jonathan Vilma, Jason Worilds
Daryl Smith was one of the steals of last year’s offseason, as the unheralded veteran filled Ray Lewis’ shoes and became the leader of the Ravens defense.
Smith did a little bit of everything for the defense and would leave a gigantic void in the middle of the field if he isn’t re-signed. It’s unclear how much money Smith will get on the market considering his age, but the Ravens are hoping to get him at a reasonable price.
There are other inside linebackers on the roster to replace him, but none of them are as solid as Smith in every phase of the game.
If the Ravens lose Smith and feel that they need experience at middle linebacker, there are some options like Brandon Spikes and Jonathan Vilma, but neither of those players will be particularly cheap.
In addition to inside linebacker, there is a possibility that there is a shakeup at outside linebacker. The Ravens are well stocked with five capable players at the position, but there have been rumblings that Terrell Suggs may be released to save cap room.
If that happens, Baltimore will need to add a proven pass-rusher, and Jason Worilds of the Pittsburgh Steelers would be a suitable replacement for “Sizzle.”
Baltimore Free Agents: Corey Graham
Free Agents of Interest: Josh Wilson, Walter Thurmond
The cornerback position is a strength of the defense if Corey Graham is re-signed. He may “only” be a nickelback, but any good defense needs three reliable cornerbacks in today’s NFL and Graham is an excellent third option.
He’s capable of starting in the case of injury, and he’s also a terrific special teamer. Graham’s versatility makes him special, and the Ravens will do everything in their power to keep him in Baltimore.
If Graham leaves, Newsome will need to find a third cornerback, and some free-agent options include Josh Wilson (a former Raven) and Walter Thurmond (Seattle Seahawks).
Baltimore Free Agents: James Ihedigbo
Free Agents of Interest: Chris Clemons
James Ihedigbo had a terrific season (out of nowhere) for the Ravens, but there have been indications that the front office wants to move on from the veteran player. That has little to do with Ihedigbo’s performance and more to do with his position.
Ihedigbo is a strong safety, the same position where first-round pick Matt Elam will thrive. With Ihedigbo in the fold, Elam is forced to play the free safety position—where he struggled in coverage and frequently got beaten on deep balls.
Ihedigbo may actually be the best safety in the Ravens’ price range, but he doesn’t fit what the Ravens want: a rangy, athletic safety who can make plays in coverage.
Of the free agents on the market, Chris Clemons (Miami Dolphins) is the best free safety option, but there are also a number of athletic safeties in the draft.
Newsome would probably prefer to sign an experience player to pair with Elam in the backfield, so look for the Ravens to pounce on Clemons or another safety who is a salary-cap casualty (Louis Delmas of the Detroit Lions is a possibility).
Baltimore Free Agents: None
Free Agents of Interest: Donnie Jones
The Ravens have no free agents at the position and the specialists were the strongest part of Baltimore football last year, so you would think there would be no changes made.
That might not be the case.
Justin Tucker is untouchable, but punter Sam Koch’s production can be replaced by a cheaper, younger player. Releasing Koch would save the Ravens some money to pursue other free agents, so Baltimore may be in the market for a punter.
There are sure to be some undrafted free-agent punters after the draft, but there will be some free agents like Donnie Jones who could be brought in to replace Koch.