6 Available Free Agents Still Within Baltimore Ravens' Reach
The Baltimore Ravens have taken full advantage of their plentiful cap room, signing 10 free agents—six of whom were Ravens to begin with—and making some serious upgrades around the depth chart. Despite all the wheeling and dealing and the fact that the entire NFL world is locked in draft mode (just check your Twitter feed for confirmation of that), there are still some veterans on the market that general manager Ozzie Newsome could choose to bring into the fold.
In all likelihood, more free agents won’t be added until after Newsome has a chance to make his 2014 NFL draft picks. But he has the cap room (approximately $6 million according to Brian McFarland of RussellStreetReport.com) to add an experienced veteran or two in conjunction with the influx of youth into the Ravens' locker room.
These are six free agents that could fill useful roles on the team and help Baltimore get back to the postseason.
TE Brian Hartsock
Head coach John Harbaugh and Owen Daniels may very well be “insulted” by the notion that the Ravens need a tight end that can actually block. That doesn’t make the thought untrue.
Daniels and Dennis Pitta may form an intimidating duo at the position when it comes to catching the ball but defenses don’t need to worry about how they impact the rushing attack.
Enter Ben Hartsock.
Baltimore’s third tight end has generally been purely a blocker—someone that can be counted on as an extra blocker around the goal line or in short-yardage situations (think Billy Bajema or Kris Wilson), and Hartsock will thrive in that role.
He did just that last year, easily ranking as ProFootballFocus’ best run-blocking tight end (subscription required). Hartsock received a plus-11.7 grade in the category, while second-placed Brent Celek earned a plus-5.2.
The offensive line is obviously the most important aspect of a good running game but don’t sleep on the value that a good blocking TE could bring to the table—you just have to watch the tape from 2013 and see Ed Dickson get beaten repeatedly for proof.
The former Carolina Panther could reunite with Steve Smith in Baltimore and be a significant contributor to a rejuvenated ground game.
QB Josh Freeman
There are a number of NFL teams without a viable starting quarterback, so you know the pickings are slim at the backup spot. The Ravens are set at starter, but Tyrod Taylor has not looked convincing as a backup.
The bottom line is that Taylor really doesn’t have much upside. He is an intriguing player as a scrambler, but he is a limited passer. The situation will always be dire if Joe Flacco goes down, but Taylor can’t come in and tread water for a couple of weeks like Josh McCown or Matt Flynn did last year.
Based on the most recent evidence, it doesn’t look like Josh Freeman can, but he at least has massive upside.
He was the 17th overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft and is only 26 years old. It looked like he was putting his physical tools together after a couple of good seasons in Tampa Bay (2010: 3,451 yards, 25 TDs, 6 INTs, 95.9 rating; 2012: 4,065 yards, 27 TDs, 17 INTs, 81.6 rating).
It went downhill rather quickly in 2013 as he didn’t mesh well with head coach Greg Schiano and then played one of the worst quarterbacking games known to man in his lone start for the Minnesota Vikings. But a change of scenery could do wonders for him (and judging him on that Vikings game is narrow-minded).
The conditions in Baltimore might be just what he needs: a hard-working locker room, a firm-but-fair head coach, an offensive guru for a coordinator and a Super Bowl MVP as a mentor.
Realistically, the outlook for Baltimore if Flacco does get hurt will be very grim and Josh Freeman may be spent as an NFL quarterback, but the tools are there—we’ve seen them before. It’s worth taking a flier on former first-round pick.
The market for the remaining free-agent quarterbacks isn’t great, and the Ravens should be able to get him on a fairly cheap deal. Freeman would be wise to take whatever he can get given that he’s close to being out of the league.
Baltimore is likely to at least peruse the quarterbacks available late in the draft and on the undrafted rookie pool, but Freeman would be a low-risk signing with the potential to pay off in a huge way.
RT Eric Winston
This hypothetical signing would definitely be after the draft since there are a number of good right tackle prospects in the first three rounds. Given Newsome’s penchant for selecting the best player available, however, it would not be unfathomable for the Ravens to come out of the draft without a definite starter on the right end of the O-line.
If that scenario does unfold, Baltimore could do a whole lot worse than Eric Winston.
He was once one of the best right tackles in the league, but his performance dipped once he left the confines of the Houston Texans—and Gary Kubiak’s blocking scheme.
The Ravens would be banking on a return to form after a reunion with his former head coach, but there’s good reason to count on that. Winston explained to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun how Kubiak helped him thrive with the Texans:
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.
Winston sat on the market last offseason and history has repeated itself this year. The Ravens could definitely get him on a cheap one-year deal (even less than his $1.25 million deal last year) and a good Winston would complete the resurrection of the O-line.
RB Michael Bush
Given the surplus of mid-round running backs that could be contribute from Day 1, it’s unlikely that the Ravens leave Radio City Music Hall without a rookie at the position. Consequently, this signing will probably never materialize, but Michael Bush would certainly fill a role for the Ravens.
Mike Reiss of ESPN broke down the film on Bush from last year, explaining what he could bring to his new team:
He’s a bigger back (6-1, 245) who runs with good body lean and thus doesn't often lose yardage even when the blocking in front of him isn't great. Much like LeGarrette Blount, when he gets some momentum in the open field, he can be difficult to tackle and isn’t afraid to deliver a blow.
Ray Rice and Justin Forsett are on the smaller side of the running back scale and, while Bernard Pierce is a bigger back, he doesn’t compare to Bush’s 245-pound frame.
Bush isn’t just a bruiser, capable of catching passes out of the backfield and bouncing runs outside, but his primary value to the Ravens would be as a short-yardage/goal-line back—a role which he has played well over his career.
DE Brandon Deaderick
Brandon Deaderick is hardly a well-known name for even more-than-casual fans, and he’s not going to come in and radically improve the defensive line. In fact, he may not even earn the starting job, but he’s an interesting target for the Ravens to pursue.
Bill Polian of ESPN gave his verdict on Deaderick in his free-agent tracker (subscription required):
A wide-bodied defensive lineman who can play as a tackle in a 4-3 scheme or as an end in a 3-4. He has good raw physical talents, including first-step quickness, but has lacked consistency during his career and needs to be coached hard.
The Ravens' defensive line isn’t what it used to be in terms of physical dominance. The days of Tony Siragusa and Kelly Gregg are gone and even Haloti Ngata doesn’t consistently overpower opposing linemen anymore.
The D-line got pushed around quite a bit last year, so getting more size and depth is crucial. Deaderick won’t cost a lot but he has the physical tools and strength to at least help the Ravens beef up that line and be a part of the rotation as a reserve defensive end—a position where depth is required.
CB Jabari Greer
Baltimore’s secondary is pretty young and inexperienced, and it may get even younger if the Ravens draft a cornerback. With that in mind, it wouldn’t hurt to add a veteran cornerback that can provide depth, leadership and professionalism.
There are a number of options on the market, but the fact that Jabari Greer is a cap casualty (and therefore does not count in the compensatory pick calculation) elevates him over the other options of similar talent.
Greer could slide into the nickel corner role, but he would be a solid special-teamer and fourth-string corner in the worst-case scenario.
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 the latest Ravens news, draft analysis and links to episodes of Ravens Central Radio, follow me on Twitter:
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