Elvis Dumervil was the jewel of last year's free-agent haul. Who will it be this year?
The Baltimore Ravens head into a surprisingly critical offseason considering their very recent championship. Baltimore’s 8-8 record hides a bevy of flaws and a lack of talent at some key positions, so general manager Ozzie Newsome has plenty of work to do to fill those holes.
The odds are that at least some of that heavy lifting will be done via free agency, and here are some of the free-agent candidates that will pique Baltimore’s interest.
Before we get to the players, let’s be clear about one thing: The Ravens aren’t going to make headline-worthy free-agent signings.
For starters, it’s generally not their modus operandi unless a situation arises that they can’t pass up (see Dumervil, Elvis). Additionally, there isn’t enough cap room to sign all the Baltimore free agents, so Newsome certainly won’t be throwing money at other players on the market.
More importantly, the Ravens value compensatory picks and will generally pursue salary-cap casualties as opposed to unrestricted free agents. Newsome emphasized this point in his end-of-year press conference:
All of those players that we signed last year were free agents and weren’t UFAs [unrestricted free agents]. 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].
So keep in mind that most of the Ravens’ free-agent targets aren’t on the market yet (and we’ll get to one of those options in a bit).
Now, here are five players that the Ravens could go after in free agency (excluding their own free agents like Dennis Pitta and Eugene Monroe).
Just watching Baltimore play last year, you can tell that the Ravens sorely missed Anquan Boldin. Head coach John Harbaugh even said as much, according to ESPN's Jamison Hensley.
There just isn’t a lot of high-end receiving talent on the roster.
The depth chart has plenty of top-notch No. 3 and No. 4 receivers like Marlon Brown, Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss and Deonte Thompson. But none of those players are a No. 2 option.
Enter Jeremy Maclin.
The former Philadelphia Eagles receiver was poised to put up huge numbers in Chip Kelly’s system, but a torn ACL robbed him of his payday.
That kind of injury can be devastating to a wide receiver, so it is unlikely that his contract offers will be overwhelming.
If Maclin returns to full strength, his new team will be getting an absolute steal.
He’s put up very good numbers every season, demonstrating the all-around skills to be a very nice complement to Torrey Smith and a wonderful addition to the receiving corps.
James Ihedigbo played surprisingly well last season, but he forced first-round pick Matt Elam to play out of position at free safety—where he got burned on multiple occasions.
All the signs point to the Ravens acquiring a true free safety which would slide Elam back over to his favored position. The problem is that there aren’t many free safety prospects on the market.
In fact, Chris Clemons is really the only attainable option that can start from day one. That makes him a real target.
The 2014 draft class is loaded at safety, but it would be a tremendous risk to rely on two inexperienced safeties next year.
As such, pursuing an experienced free agent seems like the most likely route. Clemons may be too expensive, but you can be sure that the Ravens will look into him.
Eric Winston had a terrible 2013 season as a member of one of the worst offensive lines in the league. But he was an excellent right tackle before that debacle and can reach those heights again.
Winston made his name as a member of the Houston Texans, and guess who just became the Ravens’ new offensive coordinator? His former head coach, Gary Kubiak.
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He is more than capable of returning to the form of his Houston days, but he should also be very cheap.
After an uninspiring year, there should be even less interest in him. That’s why the Ravens could pounce and find a diamond in the free-agent rough.
Danario Alexander is a poor man’s Jeremy Maclin in this free-agency context. He’s not as proven as Maclin, but he should be cheaper.
Additionally, he could actually be a really nice fit for this Ravens offense.
He’s a big target at 6’5” who can climb the ladder and win the jump balls that Joe Flacco loves to throw. Furthermore, he’s also a devastating deep threat who could thrive in a Gary Kubiak-run system relying on play-action bootlegs and deep passing.
If that happens, Delmas would be the best free safety on the market, and injury problems could keep his price tag down.
It would be a risk, but the gamble might pay off for Baltimore, and Delmas could be their free safety for the near future.