With the current NFL lockout firmly in place, with neither side willing to give up territory, you can bet front offices around the league are using this idle time to target the best free agents available.
For the Baltimore Ravens, a successful free agency period will help round out what was a good NFL Draft back in April—we gave the Ravens a solid “B” for their hard work during the draft.
Today, we will highlight which free agents the Ravens must target in order to complement their draft and, ultimately, help best their success in recent years by earning a trip to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Todd McGregor is a Baltimore Ravens Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
Follow Todd on Twitter! Twitter.com/ravens023
QB Kerry Collins in his season finale against Indianapolis (28-39, 2 TD)
Quarterback Kerry Collins, a free agent from the Tennessee Titans, is a player who is flying under the radar among the talk of other quarterbacks currently on the market.
Collins, a 17-year veteran of the NFL, still has the capability to be a quality backup. One of Collins’ better performances came in Week 17 of last year against the Indianapolis Colts, where he threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns.
Collins’ QB rating of 111.1 and completion rate of nearly 72-percent in the Titans season finale proves that the wily veteran can step in and win games if the situation presents itself in Baltimore.
Collins has playoff and Super Bowl experience embedded in his long NFL resume, so there’s real value he will bring to the Ravens if their front office looks in his direction.
At this point in QB Joe Flacco’s career, a strong mentor such as Kerry Collins, who brings a long record of accomplishment throughout his career, is just the thing Flacco needs during these important developmental years.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Collins on the Ravens’ bench in the upcoming season.
CB Nnamdi Asomugha
The notion of the Baltimore Ravens pursuing one of the NFL’s top DB free agents in Nnamdi Asomugha of the Oakland Raiders might seem ludicrous to some, but the Ravens are in the market to make serious improvements to their secondary this offseason.
Baltimore could make a big statement to the rest of the league and, more specifically, the AFC North, by signing Asomugha to play alongside rookie CB Jimmy Smith.
With CBs Chris Carr and Josh Wilson in the free-agent market and likely not returning to the team in 2011, the Ravens have no choice but to add a major playmaker to their backfield.
The only question is can Baltimore front the cash to sign Asomugha?
It all depends on whether or not the 2011 NFL regular season ends up with a salary cap attached to it. If there were a cap in the upcoming season, it would put tremendous strain on the Ravens’ front office to afford Asomugha’s $11 million-plus yearly salary.
In addition to potential financial problems impeding Baltimore from signing Asomugha in 2011, the team will undoubtedly find itself in a bidding war with other organizations like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Houston Texans and most of the big-market teams in the NFC East.
Still, we believe this is war the Ravens should engage in, because the acquisition of Asomugha would fill the last weak link in the defense, and possibly propel Baltimore to the Super Bowl come February.
Minnesota Vikings DE Ray Edwards
Defensive end Ray Edwards of the Minnesota Vikings, who’s scheduled to be a free agent in 2011, is already drawing attention from Baltimore’s AFC North rivals, the Cleveland Browns. Several reports are tying Edwards to the Browns once the lockout ends, but that’s not to say the Ravens aren't showing equal interest.
The Ravens are in desperate need of a pass rusher to serve with DT Haloti Ngata on the line, and Edwards looks to be the perfect fit for Baltimore.
Edwards recorded 37 tackles and nine assists last year, along with eight sacks. The problem here with Edwards, much like CB Nnamdi Asomugha, is the demand for a high salary.
Minnesota DE Brian Robison is scheduled to make a whopping $14.1 million over a new three-year deal, and Edwards insisted on being paid more than his backup, Robison.
If the NFL enters into an uncapped year in 2011, it would be logical for the Ravens to pursue a high-motor athlete like Edwards, since the front office neglected to draft a standout rookie DE during the draft.
DE Pernell PcPhee from Mississippi State will likely not see any playing time during the Ravens’ 2011 campaign, so signing a proven end is necessary if the Ravens are serious about improving their overall defense.
RB DeAngelo Williams
Carolina Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams is an elite player who would make for an excellent change-of-pace ball carrier on just about every team in the NFL.
RB Willis McGahee will not rejoin the Ravens in 2011, and that’s a tremendous loss. We all know RB Ray Rice is arguably one of the best all-purpose backs in the league, but Rice can’t carry the load all by himself—which is especially true with the impending departure of FB Le’Ron McClain in addition to McGahee.
The Ravens didn’t address their increasing need for a versatile running back in this year’s draft, only landing Georgia Tech’s Anthony Allen in Round 7—a player who is bound to only see playing time on special teams, if that.
The Dolphins might have deeper pockets than the Ravens, but none of that will matter in an uncapped year.
Williams wants to be on a Super Bowl-contending team, and if the 2011 season is uncapped, it makes complete sense for Baltimore to show Williams the big money in light of McClain and McGahee’s departure.
WR Santonio Holmes
The Baltimore Ravens have lacked a true red-zone target at the wide-receiver position, and the departure of T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte’ Stallworth doesn’t help.
In this case, New York Jets free-agent receiver Santonio Holmes would be a great option for the Ravens to fill the void Houshmandzadeh and Stallworth are leaving behind.
Besides WR Derrick Mason, the Ravens have yet to find a receiver who is a true deep threat and an exceptional route-runner combined into one package. Rookie receivers Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss will both see the field in 2011 (if we have an NFL season to watch)—however, the Ravens are in desperate need of a polished receiver who can make an immediate impact on the team.
The Ravens have sent several Pro Bowl athletes to the Jets in recent years, so it’s not out of the question for the Jets to do the same in this situation.
LB Paul Posluszny
Buffalo Bills LB Paul Posluszny’s future, as with all current free agents, will be determined by the resolution reached between players and owners under the ongoing CBA talks. If Posluszny ends up a restricted free agent, he will likely remain with the Bills, as they have expressed interest in retaining him.
On the other hand, if Posluszny remains an unrestricted free agent, he could be the answer to filling LB Ray Lewis’ position when the first-ballot Hall-of-Famer retires.
The Ravens didn’t draft a linebacker this year, and with the team aging fast at that position, the need for a young, talented player like Posluszny is imminent.
During Posluszny’s 2010 season with Buffalo, the stellar linebacker totaled an astounding 151 tackles and 48 assists in just 14 games. In 2009, Posluszny recorded three interceptions to go along with 110 tackles.
It’s stat lines like these which have already made Posluszny one of the most sought-after linebackers in this year’s free-agency period.
With the New Orleans Saints stating they will not pursue Posluszny once free agency is officially underway, as they initially indicated they would, this puts the Bills’ stud linebacker front and center for the Ravens to snag—that’s if Baltimore’s front office is serious about finding a replacement for Lewis now.
S Eric Weddle
With safety Ed Reed getting older, and safeties Tom Zbikowski and Dawan Landry testing free agency, it’s a no-brainer that Baltimore must target a top safety on the free-agent market in 2011. In fact, both Zbikowski and Landry could land in New England once a CBA deal is struck.
That is the word on the street.
Weddle is currently restricted in the free-agent market, but all of that might change post-CBA talks.
More importantly, Baltimore’s No. 1 draft pick, CB Jimmy Smith, will require consistent help over the top just as any corner in the NFL does.
Weddle had 95 tackles and two interceptions (one returned for a TD) in 2010, and most opposing quarterbacks avoided throwing in his direction.
Weddle has stated that he’s not committed to staying in San Diego and is open to going anywhere if the right situation presents itself. To us, that doesn’t sound like a heartfelt commitment to a team that’s known for slow starts that have killed several promising seasons in San Diego.
It sounds like Weddle would rather leave the Chargers for a team that’s consistently in it to win it.
When it comes to consistency, Weddle doesn’t need to look any further than Baltimore.
FB Vonta Leach
There are a plethora of decent fullbacks currently on the market, but Houston Texans FB Vonta Leach is the best option the Ravens have next to re-signing FB Le’Ron McClain, who has already made it clear that he wants a bigger role in a different offense outside of Baltimore.
Green Bay Packers FB John Kuhn would’ve been a good first option for the Ravens, but the Packers say they will retain Kuhn once the CBA is resolved.
As for Leach, he doesn’t have the natural athletic skills like McClain does, but the two fullbacks are mirror images of one another when it comes to size—Leach is 6’0”, 255 and McClain stands 6’0”, 260.
Up to this point, we realize it’s not realistic for the Ravens to land each and every one of these free agents. We are simply highlighting which players Baltimore should have talks with first, when all of the CBA mess ends.
Having said that, if the Ravens land Leach, it could be a game-changer for their running game, which is currently in dire need of a blocking fullback.
An acquisition like this will make or break the Ravens season.
CB Ike Taylor (#24)
CB Ike Taylor, currently an unrestricted free agent from the Pittsburgh Steelers, is another high-priced corner sitting on the market, waiting for the highest bidder.
Taylor, who’s started all 16 games every season for Pittsburgh during his eight-year career, with the exception of 2004 (13 games), is an excellent backup option for the Ravens if they lose the bidding war for CB Nnamdi Asomugha.
Although it’s highly unlikely the Steelers let one of their star players go to an arch rival in Baltimore, it is possible if Taylor doesn’t receive the $10 million contract he’s currently demanding.
Taylor isn’t the prototypical tackling machine like CB Chris Carr, but most of that can be attributed to the fact most teams didn’t throw in Taylor’s direction.
Taylor can do everything, but he tends to excel in run support and can turn up the heat on opposing quarterbacks.
It’s obvious the Ravens are in the process of restructuring their entire secondary, and they did a decent job of doing that through the draft.
Now Baltimore must land a veteran corner like Taylor to solidify the backfield.
LB Barrett Ruud
LB Barrett Ruud of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is a classic example of a player who needs a change of scenery, and a spot on the Ravens roster at the middle-linebacker position might satisfy that need.
Several teams are currently interested in Ruud, most notably the New York Giants, but Ruud is another excellent second option if the Ravens can’t sign LB Paul Posluszny from Buffalo.
Ruud has only managed five sacks in the past three NFL seasons, but his above-average ability to make open-field tackles has allowed him to produce decent stats across the board.
The run support Ruud brings to the field can be of value to the Ravens, which often struggled to stop the run throughout the 2010 season.
Overall, we believe Ruud would be a great fit in Baltimore, so only time would tell if GM Ozzie Newsome and Co. make a move with Ruud.
As we mentioned earlier, it’s obviously impossible for the Ravens to land every single one of these athletes, even in an uncapped year.
The players we highlighted are simple suggestions on which way the Ravens should look once the free-agency period officially begins.
A lot of information and research went into these free-agent picks, so hopefully all of you Ravens fans out there now have a better understanding of our team’s needs.
If anything we discussed changes because of CBA negotiations, or breaking news occurs, we will try our best to get that news to you as fast as possible.
Right now, we can only hope for a full NFL season, and hopefully a free-agency period.