Baltimore Ravens' Final Free-Agency Outlook and Predictions

Shehan PeirisCorrespondent IIIMarch 6, 2014

Baltimore Ravens' Final Free-Agency Outlook and Predictions

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    GAIL BURTON/Associated Press

    The Baltimore Ravens usually aren’t a team that makes a big splash in free agency, as general manager Ozzie Newsome tends to thrive in finding bargain deals who fly under the radar (Daryl Smith, anybody?). This year, however, may be an exception to that rule. With plenty of needs and the requisite cap room to address those needs, the Ravens will be a bigger presence on the free-agency market than usual.

    Don’t get me wrong—they won’t make splash moves. Newsome isn’t going to shell out tons of money and make the headlines, because that’s just not how he operates. But the Ravens are going to be aggressive in rebuilding the roster and getting back to winning ways.

    Free agency opens on March 11, so here’s everything you need to know as that date draws nearer.

Cap Space

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    GAIL BURTON/Associated Press

    Thanks to the kind folks at RussellStreetReport.com (specifically salary-cap guru Brian McFarland), you can take an in-depth look at the Ravens cap situation. If you do that, you’ll see that they have a hair under $25 million in cap room—and that’s after the Dennis Pitta contract.

    That number is much greater than what was being thrown around at the start of the offseason for two reasons. Firstly, the Terrell Suggs extension and the subsequent releases of Vonta Leach and Jameel McClain freed up a combined $10 million in room.

    The more substantial change was the surprising announcement that the league salary cap would be a record number of $133 million for the 2014 season.

    Both of those factors mean that the Ravens have enough cap space to keep their own key free agents while still having enough left over to bring in some players from outside the organization.

Current Free Agents

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    So who exactly is on the market who wore the purple and black last year? Here’s a table of all the unrestricted free agents on the roster as well as the two restricted free agents:

    Eugene Monroe (UFA)Arthur Jones (UFA)
    Corey Graham (UFA)Daryl Smith (UFA)
    Jacoby Jones (UFA)James Ihedigbo (UFA)
    Ed Dickson (UFA)Michael Oher (UFA)
    Terrence Cody (UFA)Dallas Clark (UFA)
    Bernard Scott (UFA)Jeromy Miles (UFA)
    Brandon Stokley (UFA, retired)Tandon Doss (RFA)
    Albert McClellan (RFA) 

    The most important player on that list—now that Dennis Pitta is off the market—is clearly left tackle Eugene Monroe. Unfortunately, the Ravens aren’t the only team that thinks so.

    Monroe is widely considered to be the best offensive lineman on the market, and top-level left tackles cost a pretty penny these days.

    Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun broke down Monroe’s market value and had this to say about the Ravens’ chances of landing the tackle if he hits the open market:

    And his compensation could climb even higher if he hits free agency, where a potential bidding war could commence among other teams in need of a tackle. That list includes the Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Carolina Panthers.

    What’s more, Monroe isn’t the only free agent who is going to earn a well-deserved payday. Defensive end Arthur Jones had a breakout year and has most likely played his way out of the Ravens’ price range.

    The expensive guys aren’t the only important players to retain either. Daryl Smith and Corey Graham aren’t going to command high salaries, but they’re crucial to Baltimore’s defense.

Team Needs

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Baltimore’s needs can be broken down into three different categories: critical needs (positions where starters or important role players are needed), depth chart needs (positions where more depth is needed to shore up the rotation) and potential needs (positions that might be a need depending on what happens with Baltimore’s FAs).

    Here’s the breakdown:

    Type of NeedPositions
    Critical NeedsWR, OT, FS
    Depth Chart NeedsC, TE, RB, DE
    Potential NeedsILB, CB

    The Ravens offense stalled thanks to the lack of playmakers on the outside and the inability of the offensive line to accomplish anything. Consequently, wide receiver and offensive tackle are two gigantic needs which the Ravens are definitely going to address in free agency or the draft.

    In addition, the Ravens are in the market for a starter at free safety to pair with Matt Elam in the defensive backfield.

    Beyond those glaring needs, GM Ozzie Newsome needs to consider signing a tight end, running back and center to provide competition and build depth on the roster, as well as a potential defensive end to take Arthur Jones’ spot in the starting lineup (if he does in fact head for greener pastures).

    Hopefully, the Ravens won’t need to focus on inside linebacker or cornerback because Daryl Smith and Corey Graham stick around in Baltimore, but those positions will become depth chart needs if those free agents depart.

Possible Targets

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    It’s hard to narrow down the potential free targets to one per position, but that’s what I’ve done here. These players would be a good fit for the Ravens and are attainable options in terms of salary.

     

    Wide Receiver: Jason Avant

    None of the big-name receivers on the market seems like a good fit for this Ravens roster, so it’s very likely that Newsome turns to the extremely talented draft class of wideouts to find Baltimore’s next starter.

    That doesn’t mean he’ll walk away from a bargain if he finds it—and that’s what Jason Avant is.

    Avant was recently released by the Philadelphia Eagles, and he’s not a long-term solution due to his age (30 years old). Despite that, however, he’s very reliable, has excellent hands and demonstrates a knack for making big plays. The Ravens could definitely find a place for him in their rotation.

     

    Offensive Tackle: Eric Winston

    This just makes too much sense not to happen. Eric Winston’s best days came under Gary Kubiak in Houston—something Winston readily acknowledged to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun:

    He's good at getting guys to be successful. He not only knows the Xs and Os, but he knows how to get the most out of a player like Wade Smith. He was the classic journeyman lineman and the Texans brought the most out of him and made him successful. Personally, I'm a fan of Gary Kubiak. He's a big reason why I've been successful.

    Moreover, it wasn’t too long ago that Winston was one of the best right tackles in the league. Given the lack of interest in Winston when he was a free agent last year, it’s safe to assume that the Ravens wouldn’t need to spend much money to sign him.

    Like I said, it makes too much sense on every level.

     

    Free Safety: Louis Delmas

    Louis Delmas was released by the Detroit Lions earlier in the offseason, and we know how much Newsome loves his cap casualties.

    There are a few red flags with Delmas—especially with regard to his health—but Delmas has the potential to become a ball-hawking safety to make plays in the passing game.

     

    Center: Dominic Raiola

    The Gino Gradkowski experiment didn’t work out like the Ravens were hoping, but he still has the support of the Ravens coaching staff and even his predecessor, Matt Birk.

    Even so, the Ravens will be looking at veteran centers to push Gradkowski in training camp and mentor him through the process of becoming a starting-caliber center. Dominic Raiola fits the bill perfectly.

    He’s got plenty of experience, and at 35 years old he won’t make a lot of money this year. Raiola is coming off arguably the best season of his career and still has enough in the tank to make a difference.

Predictions

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Trying to predict what will happen in sports is difficult, but it’s also the most entertaining aspect of being a fan. Here’s what will happen in Baltimore this offseason:

     

    The Ravens will re-sign Eugene Monroe, Daryl Smith and Corey Graham

    Eugene Monroe is too valuable, and there aren’t many replacements for him either on the market or in the draft. With enough cap room to work with, Baltimore will be able to reach a number that placates the blindside bodyguard.

    Likewise, Daryl Smith and Corey Graham are too valuable for the Ravens. Money won’t be an issue for them, however, so bringing them back is a no-brainer for the front office.

     

    The Ravens will let Arthur Jones, Jacoby Jones, Ed Dickson, Michael Oher and James Ihedigbo walk

    Baltimore would certainly like to keep Arthur and Jacoby Jones but not at the salaries they are likely going to earn in free agency.

    As for the rest, Dickson and Oher severely underperformed last year, and it would make more sense for the Ravens to try to bring in younger players at their positions.

     

    The Ravens sign Eric Winston

    As was explained in the previous slide, this just makes too much sense. Baltimore may want to draft a young tackle to groom, but Winston is ready to start at right tackle from Day 1 and has the familiarity with Kubiak’s system to make the transition simple.

     

    Newsome saves wide receiver for the draft

    The loaded draft class of receivers in conjunction with the uninspiring collection of wideouts on the market mean that the Ravens are sure to spend an early draft pick on a wide receiver instead of pursuing a free agent.

     

     

    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: