Creating Baltimore Ravens' Free Agency Fallback Plan
Free agency often conjures up grand visions of spectacular free-agent hauls. Not for the Baltimore Ravens. It’s just not general manager Ozzie Newsome’s modus operandi, as he opts to maximize his cap space and not spend a penny more than he has to. Consequently, it means the Ravens must always have contingency plans in the event that they miss out on their free-agent targets, and we’ll be examining those Plan B’s right here.
For some of Baltimore’s offseason needs, there is a clear-cut player in mind—generally a Ravens free agent that the front office would like to retain. At left tackle, the desired option is certainly Eugene Monroe. Likewise, Daryl Smith and Corey Graham are the picks at inside linebacker and No. 3 cornerback.
On the other hand, the Ravens are looking outside the organization to find a free safety and right tackle. But this article isn’t about the ideal scenarios. It’s about the unideal circumstances.
What will Newsome do if he doesn’t get his man? That’s what we’re about to find out. Each slide describes various secondary options the Ravens have at their disposal to address a position of need.
Let’s start with the most important offseason focus of the Baltimore Ravens now that Terrell Suggs and Dennis Pitta will be in Baltimore for the foreseeable future.
Eugene Monroe is undoubtedly the preferred choice to protect the $120-million man—after all, you don’t trade fourth- and fifth-round picks for a three-month rental.
But there are a number of left tackles on the market that will be adequate replacements for Monroe if he opts to move on.
Branden Albert is the best of the alternatives because he has proven the ability to be a full-time starter at the position over his five years with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The problem, however, will be that all of those tackles may have found new homes already during the legal tampering period, according to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun:
Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Branden Albert is expected to sign with the Miami Dolphins for an average of $9.5 million annually. St. Louis Rams offensive tackle Rodger Saffold is expected to sign with the Oakland Raiders for roughly $8 million per year, but he is still in talks with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Oakland Raiders offensive tackle Jared Veldheer is expected to sign with the Arizona Cardinals for between $7 million and $7.5 million. Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Anthony Collins is expected to sign with the Buccaneers for between $6.5 million to $7 million provided that he doesn't re-sign with the Bengals.
Honestly, any of those options would be good enough if the Ravens miss out on Monroe as they are all capable of starting at left tackle from day one—unlike the rookies that usually need some seasoning at right tackle before moving over to the left side.
We know that the Ravens need to add a free safety, but it’s still unclear how they will address that hole. There are some intriguing safeties in the draft, but the prospect of pairing a rookie with second-year Matt Elam as the last line of the defense is nerve-wracking.
Consequently, you’d assume that GM Ozzie Newsome would be leaning toward signing an experienced safety to man the back lines.
Jairus Byrd is the best safety on the market but that means he will likely receive a big payday—which means he won’t end up in Baltimore.
Behind him, however, are some intriguing options. Louis Delmas was linked to the Ravens after being released by the Detroit Lions earlier this offseason, but he’s off the market and headed to Miami, according to Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.
While that takes an option away from the Ravens, it opens the door to another one: Chris Clemons.
Clemons was the starting free safety for the Dolphins, but he’ll now be looking for a new job—and that’s where the Ravens can pounce.
He was ranked as the ninth-best cover safety in the league according to ProFootballFocus (subscription required) and would be a good value buy as a ball-hawking safety in the backfield.
If Baltimore can’t convince Clemons to join them, they should take a long, hard look at Stevie Brown. He missed all of last year due to a torn ACL, which may temper his market value. Despite that, he proved in 2012 that he can make plays on the ball and create turnovers, racking up eight interceptions. Brown isn’t as safe and reliable in coverage as Clemons, but he compensates by forcing turnovers.
Compared to last season—when Newsome had to replace Ray Lewis—this offseason should be a piece of cake at the inside linebacker position. That said, Daryl Smith filled in admirably for “The General” and emerged as a leader and perhaps the most indispensable Raven last year.
If the Ravens have to once again replace a starting middle linebacker, Karlos Dansby would be the best option—but an expensive one. According to Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com, Dansby feels like he should be paid as one of the best linebackers in the league, and the Ravens just aren’t going to do that.
The likeliest option if the Ravens part with Daryl Smith could actually be Jameel McClain—whom they just released—on a more cap-friendly deal. McClain knows the defense and could take over as the “quarterback” on that side of the ball.
No. 3 Cornerback
Having a good third cornerback may seem like more of a luxury than necessity, but that’s just not the case nowadays. Corey Graham has been a vital member of the Ravens defense thanks to his versatility, solid coverage and tackling ability.
As a result, the Ravens will make an effort to re-sign him but they have a number of options on the market if Graham’s asking price gets too lofty.
Baltimore could sign former Raven Josh Wilson, or a proven corner like Nolan Carroll, Will Blackmon or Jabari Greer to fill in as the third cornerback in the defensive rotation.
There are a plethora of cornerbacks on the market, so finding a replacement for Graham won’t be too difficult. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.
Jacoby Jones is listed as a wide receiver, but his true value comes on special teams where he is one of the best returners in the game.
The Ravens would sorely miss his dynamic playmaking ability if he leaves, but there are a few established returners on the market that could help.
Firstly, one of the best returners of all-time—Devin Hester—is looking for work but he’s on the wrong side of 30 so he may not be worth the money (even though he was still one of the best returners in the league last season).
Then there’s Trindon Holliday, who averaged 27.7 yards per kick return last year and whose returning prowess the Ravens are familiar with—he scored two return touchdowns in the 2012 AFC Divisional Round matchup against Denver.
Lastly, the Ravens have some viable returners on the roster like restricted free agent Tandon Doss who led the league in punt return average last year.
Jones is a valuable returner but finding a replacement won’t be a serious problem for the front office.
Not only is left tackle an issue, but the other starting tackle spot is wide open at the moment too. Baltimore may look to the draft to fill this need, but there are a couple of intriguing options on the market.
For starters, there’s Zach Strief—the best right tackle in the league last year, according to ProFootballFocus (subscription required).
Strief is excellent as a pass-blocker but is only average in the run game, so he may not be the best fit for the Ravens—who are dedicated to mending the putrid rushing attack we saw in 2013.
Perhaps the best fit on the market would be right tackle Eric Winston who thrived under Gary Kubiak in Houston and is familiar with Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme.
Another very realistic option that fans won’t be thrilled about is re-signing Michael Oher. He was bad in 2013 but so were most of the Ravens' offensive linemen. While it wouldn’t be ideal, Oher is familiar with the personnel and coaching staff and is better than he showed in 2013.
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 the Pro Football Central radio network that focuses 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:
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