Setting Odds for the Baltimore Ravens Signing Their Top 6 Free-Agent Targets
General manager Ozzie Newsome must determine the highest priorities of the bunch while assessing the salary cap and other options externally.
According to Spotrac.com, the Ravens only have a projected $11.498 million of cap space to work with, making it unavoidable that the team will have to part ways with some talented players.
The following slides outline the top six free agents set to test free agency and the odds that Baltimore can retain their services for at least another season.
All contract details courtesy of Spotrac.com.
DE Arthur Jones
Arthur Jones played exceptionally well for the Ravens in 2013, recording 53 tackles and four sacks. He ranked as the 12th-best defensive end in a 3-4 defensive scheme by PFF.
Unfortunately for Baltimore, he will be a coveted player by other teams with deeper pockets looking to upgrade at the position. The former fifth-round pick from 2010 is coming off a one-year deal worth $2.023 million.
Given some of the other glaring needs for the team and cost involved, this signing appears to be a long shot. Look for Newsome and the front office to make a run at Jones, but they'll likely be unable to compete.
WR Jacoby Jones
Ravens fans were treated to an explosive season by Jacoby Jones, primarily in the kick return game. He finished the year with the sixth-most return yards in the NFL (892), which included a 77-yard return for a touchdown.
Jones also hauled in 37 receptions for 455 yards and two touchdowns as a secondary option to No. 1 wideout Torrey Smith.
The arrival of new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak could help the chances of retaining Jones, as Kubiak served as head coach when the receiver was in Houston. But Jones also recognizes the business side of the game, via BaltimoreRavens.com: "I would love to stay in Baltimore," he said. "It’s a business. It is what it is, but I would love to go back to Baltimore."
There should be a pretty strong market available for Jones, who offers versatility as a receiver and kick returner. Even with Kubiak joining the club, this will be a difficult signing.
S James Ihedigbo
James Ihedigbo was a pleasant surprise for Baltimore in 2013, amassing 101 tackles, 11 passes defended, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. He's tied with Eric Reid in San Francisco as the 16th-best safety according to PFF.
However, the Ravens are in a position where they may try to use second-year player Matt Elam more at strong safety. According to John Harbaugh (via The Baltimore Sun), "Matt is probably more of a strong safety in your vision of what those guys are."
Ihedigbo signed a one-year, $780,000 contract last season and may still be available for a reasonable price. He proved he can produce as a starting safety but would only provide depth if Baltimore decides to slide Elam over and target an upgrade at free safety.
LB Daryl Smith
The Ravens' defense was one of the strong suits of an otherwise disappointing 8-8 season, finishing 11th in run defense and 12th in total yards allowed.
A big reason for that stability was Daryl Smith, who filled in nicely at inside linebacker for the departing Ray Lewis after Super Bowl XLVII.
He recorded 123 tackles, 19 passes defended, five sacks, three interceptions (one for a touchdown) and two forced fumbles.
In other words, Smith did a lot of everything for the Ravens on defense.
Considering his production numbers, the price for Smith will be going up in 2014, as he was under a one-year, $1.125 million contract. The Ravens must focus their limited cap room on signing the staple defender.
TE Dennis Pitta
There were such high aspirations for Dennis Pitta heading into last season, coming off a 2012 campaign where the tight end had 61 receptions for 669 yards and seven touchdowns.
Unfortunately, all of that was soured by a hip injury that forced Pitta to miss the majority of the season.
The four-year player was able to return to action in Week 14 against the Minnesota Vikings in a rather memorable snow-filled affair, with the Ravens pulling out a late-second victory.
Even with the limited action, Pitta still proved to be one of Joe Flacco's favorite targets. In four games, he hauled in 20 catches for 169 yards and one touchdown.
Pitta will be a top priority for Baltimore this offseason, who desperately needs options in the passing game. Kubiak has already said that he expects the explosive tight end "to be a big part of the offense in 2014," via Pro Football Talk.
I would set the odds slightly better than even that Pitta returns to the Ravens. The price and length of contract is certainly still up in the air.
OT Eugene Monroe
Considering how poorly the Ravens running attack and pass blocking was in 2013, you wouldn't expect any of the offensive line to be a major focus to re-sign.
However, that excludes offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, who came over from the Jacksonville Jaguars via a trade in October.
According to PFF, the 6'5", 306-pound lineman ranked as the 12th-best tackle in the NFL. As the blindside blocker for Flacco, he only allowed four sacks, three quarterback hits and 17 quarterback hurries.
Newsome needs to lock Monroe in for a long-term contract, providing stability at one of the most important positions in football. Of all the other impending free-agent decisions on offense, this signing is the most foundational for success.
Matthew Stensrud is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.
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