The Ravens smartly got a new deal done with tight end Dennis Pitta before he even came close to the free-agent market.
Key signings: TE Dennis Pitta, WR/KR Jacoby Jones, LB Daryl Smith, WR Steve Smith, LT Eugene Monroe, C Jeremy Zuttah (trade with Tampa Bay)
The Baltimore Ravens used the majority of their cap space locking down a quartet of their own free agents, and smartly so. The four re-signings—tight end Dennis Pitta, receiver and kick returner Jacoby Jones, left tackle Eugene Monroe and middle linebacker Daryl Smith—are some of the most important players on the roster, and even one of them leaving in free agency would have put the Ravens in a bind.
Tight end Dennis Pitta may have missed a significant amount of time in 2013 after suffering a preseason hip injury, but his absence disrupted Baltimore's offense to the point that there was no way it could afford to lose him in free agency. He's quarterback Joe Flacco's favorite and most reliable target, and on a team that lacks reliability on offense, it's clear why he's been re-signed.
The run game also suffered in 2013 due to a combination of factors that began with a struggling offensive line. The first step to turning this around is to retain left tackle Eugene Monroe, who was one of just two Ravens offensive linemen to play well in both the run and passing games in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus.
The next step was to find a way to upgrade at center, where second-year player Gino Gradkowski struggled in 2013. Though the Ravens didn't find their ideal veteran center in free agency, they successfully traded for one, snagging Jeremy Zuttah from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 2015 fifth-round draft pick.
Baltimore's commitment to offensive improvement continued with the signing of veteran receiver Steve Smith, who, until now, had spent his entire career with the Carolina Panthers.
Though Smith will be 35 years old when the regular season begins, his experience is more than welcomed by a Ravens receiving corps that is quite young. Smith also clearly has a lot left in the tank, as evidenced by his renaissance in Carolina with quarterback Cam Newton. Smith had a total of 3,313 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns over the last three seasons.
The Ravens didn't focus on defense in free agency, but they did manage to keep middle linebacker Daryl Smith on the roster. Baltimore brought Smith on last year to replace the retired Ray Lewis, and he handled the job better than expected, especially in coverage, where the Ravens' linebackers had previously struggled.
Finally, both the offense and special teams avoided taking a hit, with the Ravens re-signing Jacoby Jones to a four-year deal. Jones may be a marginal receiver, but his familiarity with new Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's system makes him an asset. On special teams, few returners rival Jones' production. Jones had a combined 1,129 yards in kick and punt return yardage in 2013, along with a touchdown.
The Ravens might have focused the majority of their spending on their own free agents, but not re-signing them could have crippled the team or significantly altered their draft plans. The Ravens could have had major roster holes at four starting positions, but they don't have as much to worry about now as they try to bounce back from an uncharacteristic 8-8 finish.