The 5 Moves Baltimore Ravens Must Avoid in Free Agency
The Baltimore Ravens sealed the deal with Dennis Pitta to open the offseason with a solid “acquisition.” You can bet that general manager Ozzie Newsome is salivating at the chance to make more moves and bring in talent to rebuild the roster, but sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make.
To prove that I’m not merely trying to be deep and philosophical by positing a Yoda-like theory that turns normal theories on their head, this is a list of five free-agency moves the Ravens should stay away from.
In some cases, they are positions that aren’t worth upgrading through free agency—like wide receiver, where the underwhelming class of realistic free agents (read: not Eric Decker) doesn’t come close to the tantalizing and deep crop of wideouts in the draft.
Additionally, some of these non-moves have to do with the Ravens' own free agents—or in the case of Vonta Leach, cap casualties.
Save your questions until the very end but don’t hesitate to share your opinions on the Ravens offseason in the comments below.
Here are the moves that would break Baltimore’s rebuilding efforts—let’s hope Newsome doesn’t make them.
Don't Bring Vonta Leach Back
This is tough. How can you not love Vonta Leach? In many ways, he represents what the Ravens are all about: physicality, dominance and the ability to bully opposing defenses with a punishing ground game.
But the Ravens have had to question the value of a one-dimensional fullback in their last two offseasons.
Like last year, this is purely about money, and the Ravens have been open about the idea of bringing him back at a cheaper salary, based on what Ozzie Newsome told Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com:
Vonta and Jameel are two of our most important players over the last few seasons, helping us to the playoffs and giving the Ravens the Super Bowl win after the 2012 season. There could come a point later on when we would consider bringing back Vonta and Jameel. They are our types of players.
Not only is Leach a valuable blocker, but the hiring of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak—who has a history with Leach and is one of the few coaches who uses fullbacks—makes a reunion even more likely.
That doesn’t mean the Ravens should do it.
As tremendous as Leach has been, this isn’t even about him. It’s about Kyle Juszczyk.
Last year’s fourth-round pick out of Harvard wasn’t ready to shoulder lead-blocking duties in his first professional season, which prompted the Ravens to re-sign Leach.
After a year of seasoning, however, Juszczyk is ready for a bigger role.
More importantly, it looks like the coaching staff is prepared to give him a larger chunk of the workload, according to Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com. Here’s what Juszczyk revealed about his role in the new offense:
[Head Coach John Harbaugh] expects a lot and I expect a lot from myself as well. I’m excited to be more involved next year, and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it works. [The coaches] all have the same idea that I’m really going to be a guy that can move around to a lot of different positions. I can be flexed out, I can be in the backfield when I need to be in short-yardage and goal-line situations. It’s a lot of what I expected to do last year but we never got to it.
Juszczyk is going to be a downgrade in terms of plain bulldozing, but he brings unique versatility to the table and can develop into a security blanket and reliable weapon for Joe Flacco in an offense that will take any playmaker it can get.
There will be growing pains, but there is no teacher like real experience and live reps in game action.
Juszczyk excelled on special teams last year as the lead blocker on returns, demonstrating toughness and physicality. Those traits will serve him well as he transitions to being a bigger part of the offense, and his potential is fascinating.
The Ravens need to see what he can give them, and that’s the reason for letting Leach find a new home.
Don't Get into a Bidding War for Eugene Monroe
If re-signing Dennis Pitta was No. 1 on Ozzie Newsome’s priority list, you can be sure that retaining Eugene Monroe is a very close second.
By this point, we all know the value of Eugene Monroe. He’s young (26 years old), athletic and tremendous in pass protection. He has consistently been among the league’s best left tackles over the last few years, and that type of player gets paid—a lot.
The salary cap for 2014 was set at $133 million, which is the highest number in league history. This means that the Ravens have more cap room than initially anticipated, aiding them in their quest to pursue players.
The bad news? Plenty of other teams have even more money and will be eyeing Monroe as an offseason prize.
The Arizona Cardinals, Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins could make a high-priced run at Monroe, and Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports that the Dolphins “very much like Monroe and plan to pursue" him in free agency.
He is a reliable blindside protector for Joe Flacco, but he is not an elite tackle. He’s only worth around $9 million per year at most, but he stands a fairly good chance of eclipsing that number if he hits the open market.
If Baltimore wants to keep Monroe at a reasonable price, it would have to lock him up and prevent him from even hitting the market. If the team doesn’t, there will be a bidding war for his services that the Ravens aren’t going to win.
Don't Re-Sign Arthur Jones
The Ravens’ mantra over the last decade has been “right player, right price.” Arthur Jones is definitely the right player, but he won’t be available at the right price.
He has grown significantly as a player, breaking out last year as an all-around defensive end with the versatility to disrupt the run game as well as get to the quarterback.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he was the second-best Ravens defender last year.
His departure is going to leave a void on the defense, and the increased cap space may prompt the Ravens to think about keeping Jones.
If he can be had for cheap, then they would welcome him back with open arms. Unfortunately, that’s probably not going to happen.
Jones is very solid, but his greatest asset is his consistency. He always plays at an above-average level, but there are rarely signs of dominance.
Like Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger before him, Jones is going to get overpaid this summer. Baltimore needs to make sure it isn’t the team that’s writing his checks.
Don't Add a Running Back from the Open Market
The rushing attack was depressing last year, so it’s no surprise to hear the Ravens talk about how the ground game needs an overhaul.
Most of that work will be done along the offensive line, which provided less resistance than a subway turnstile, but attention will be paid to the running back position.
Ryan Mink of the official team website reported that head coach John Harbaugh wants to add at least one more running back to the roster: "It doesn’t have to be a certain big guy, little guy, fast guy, slow guy. It’s all kinds of different types of backs. We want to get a good guy with good vision, who will run hard and protect the football."
Regardless of what type of back it is, he will be behind Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce on the depth chart, so the Ravens shouldn’t spend money on one in free agency.
Instead, they should turn to the draft, where an increasing number of late-round gems can be solid contributors on the ground.
Not only do the Ravens have a chance to hit on a real bargain, but running backs are generally depreciating assets from the moment they enter the league.
No position takes more punishment than the running back, so injuries accumulate and the wear-and-tear limits effectiveness. Why spend more money on an older back with a greater risk of breaking down when you can add a young talent with no miles on the odometer?
Don't Sign a Free-Agent Wide Receiver
Fans have been pining for a wide receiver for years, but don’t look for the team to address that position in free agency. In fact, you should be disappointed if the Ravens do add a free-agent receiver.
For starters, who are they going to sign? Eric Decker is an unrealistic option, given the hefty salary that he will command.
Beyond him are luminaries such as Hakeem Nicks, Sidney Rice and Danario Alexander. All three have a lot of potential, but they’re at the point where you shouldn’t be relying on them (either because of injuries, drops and/or inconsistency).
Furthermore, none of them is a surefire No. 2 receiver—and that’s what the Ravens need.
Marlon Brown showed plenty of upside as a third receiver, while Tandon Doss and Deonte Thompson are solid No. 4 options. But nobody on the roster is anywhere close to Torrey Smith’s level, and the same goes for free agency.
With a 2014 draft class loaded with exciting wide receiver prospects of every mold, Baltimore needs to focus on acquiring pass-catching help in the draft.
Shehan Peiris is B/R's lead Featured Columnist covering the Baltimore Ravens and a co-host of Ravens Central Radio, a weekly podcast on all things Ravens-related. For breaking news, roster evaluation, draft analysis and links to the latest episodes of Ravens Central Radio, follow me on Twitter: