The Ravens are a team that doesn’t need to dive heavily into free agency. The team should focus more on re-signing their own players.
But there will always be a few players the Ravens will sign to fill holes and replace players that the team is unable to retain.
Many times they will be forced to let one of their players go in free agency because other teams are willing to overpay them. That was the case with Jason Brown, the Ravens’ center who emerged as one of the league’s best interior lineman.
After the 2008 season, the Ravens offered Brown a contract prior to free agency, but Brown decided to test the market. He subsequently became one of the highest-paid linemen in the league.
The Ravens handled Bart Scott in the same manner. Scott was offered a contract but was ultimately able to make much more with the Jets.
There’s no doubt that the Ravens wanted to retain both Brown and Scott. They want to retain many of their own players this offseason as well, but the reality of NFL free agency cannot be ignored.
"We will be aggressive at retaining our own players, that's been our history," GM Ozzie Newsome told The Baltimore Sun. "But we will be smart about getting in the market with those guys, and understanding that we've had success in retaining some, and had some misfortune missing on guys like Jason Brown, Bart Scott and Anthony Weaver. We have operated on both sides of the ledger.”
The Ravens deal with these issues every season. But unlike past seasons, this offseason is filled with uncertainty, as the Ravens still do not know which of their players will be unrestricted free agents.
The NFL is negotiating a new CBA with the players, and no one knows whether four-year veterans or six-year players will be unrestricted free agents. Obviously, the Ravens are hoping the NFL will stick with the rules from last season, which restricted players with less than six years of NFL experience.
"Everything will be predicated on what the requirement is going to be for free agency, whether it's four or six years,” said Newsome.
“If it is four years to free agency like it was before 2010, then our numbers goes up of guys who are eligible to become free agents. If it is six, like it was last year, then that number decreases significantly for us and works into the Ravens' favor. We're prepared for both scenarios."
If the new CBA allows four-year veterans to become unrestricted free agents, the Ravens may not be able to keep as many of their players as they would like. Under those rules, Dawan Landry, Le’Ron McClain, Jared Gaither, Josh Wilson and Chris Carr would all be unrestricted free agents.
That would not only make it difficult to retain those players, but it would also decrease the team's ability to sign free agents to fill any remaining needs. The Ravens have already stated they would like to find a pass-rusher in free agency. But if the Ravens are forced to re-sign their four-year veterans, they may decide to try and make due with the current roster.
On the other hand, the market would be flooded with free agents in that scenario. So not only are the Ravens' chances of finding a decent replacement higher, but their guys may not command as high of a price. Either way, the Ravens will be prepared.
If the Ravens cannot retain Dawan Landry, they have two young, up-and-coming players to replace him: Tom Zbikowski, who played well while replacing an injured Ed Reed last season, and Haruki Nakamura.
Many people believe that the Ravens will ultimately let Landry walk since he's likely to command a large contract after five standout seasons with the Ravens.
If Le'Ron McClain is an unrestricted free agent, the Ravens may opt to let him go and pursue Vonta Leach, since it has been reported that the Texans are unlikely to re-sign Leach. Leach would probably demand big money, but he is more of a blocking fullback than McClain. The Ravens have stated that fullback is one of their biggest offseason needs.
The Ravens have options no matter what happens. They will likely find a way to retain the majority of their free agents. Even if they must let a few walk, they are a deep team with many young players who could potentially step up. Signing other players in free agency is also an option.
Unfortunately, the Ravens will not know where they truly stand until this lockout ends. So for right now, everything is still up in the air.