Not long ago we took a hard look at the inside linebacker position and free agent to be, Daryl Smith. Let’s take a look at another upcoming positional need of the Ravens, free safety. They have one safety under contract. Matt Elam. It was proven this season that the free safety spot isn’t quite Elam’s forte. He was in a way unfairly thrown into that position when Michael Huff didn’t meet expectations. Ozzie Newsome mentioned wanting to bring a playmaker into that position during today’s “State of the Ravens” address.
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Strong safety, James Ihedigbo, had himself a nice season and is not likely to be resigned by Baltimore. After soon to be second year starter Elam, the Ravens are looking at exclusive rights free agents Omar Brown, Brynden Trawick, and Anthony Levine. All three of which were practice squad members before being promoted to the 53-man roster. All three of which I wouldn’t be comfortable asking to be a starter on this defense next year.
The Ravens carried six safeties on board last year. Resigning Brown, Trawick and Levine to the cheap ERFA tenders still leaves room for two safeties. One of them needs to be starting free safety caliber. Sure, they could address that in the draft, but that’s a real gamble. They could move personnel around, but maybe they can’t. For a starting FS, free agency maybe the place to look.
Here are some starting free safeties who recently received contracts.
For a point of reference, the Ravens tried to address this positional need last year by singing Michael Huff to a three-year deal worth $6M at age 30. Huff was regarded as one of the games better safeties in the good but not great class. His upside was his versatility to play anywhere in the secondary. Come to find out, there is a reason they got him so cheap.
Now let’s take a look at some of the household names who could be available on the market this offseason.
Jairus Byrd – Buffalo made Byrd the highest paid free safety in the NFL last season, applying the franchise tag to him worth $6.91M. Byrd is a great talent that I would think is likely out of the Ravens price range. That is until Ozzie spoke passionately about wanting a playmaker in that position. Who knows? A back loaded contract with a higher cap number when the salary cap is expected to jump up in a big way after 2015 could be the trick. I could see someone paying the 27-year old Byrd, Eric Weddle type money.
Ryan Clark – The 34-year old is at the end of a four-year deal with Pittsburgh that paid him $14M over that span. His next contracts would be at most of the two year variety, but teams will probably offer one year at first. He would come at a discount because of his inability to play in the high altitude of Denver due to sickle cell. In the Ravens case, the only way they play in Denver next season is in a playoff matchup.
Chris Clemmons – Chris Clemmons from Clemson (say that three times fast) was resigned by the Miami Dolphins prior to 2013 to a one-year deal worth $2.75M with $1M guaranteed. Clemmons, 28, excels against the pass and run, and has been known to play both safety positions. A deal paying Clemmons about a $3M average wouldn’t be out of the question and could fit into the Ravens price range where they wouldn’t have to make major changes to the current roster to get the deal done. Hard to tell if the Dolphins will try to retain Clemmons as their GM, Jeff Ireland and the team have parted ways.
Malcolm Jenkins – Jenkins spent the end of the 2012 season on IR with a hamstring, and then the team drafted Kenny Vaccoro out of Texas with their first pick in the 2013 draft. Vaccaro played very well in his rookie year and the writing seems to be on the wall for Jenkins. Jenkins was taken with the 14th overall pick in the 2009 draft as a cornerback. He also has been known to play some nickel corner. First team All-American at Ohio State and Jim Thorpe award winner. He played on special teams and nickel corner as a rookie when Roman Harper and Darren Sharper manned the safety spots. All in all, his career has been a disappointment, and signing him should come as a cheap, reclamation project.
In baseball terms, the Orioles would sign Malcolm Jenkins instead of Jairus Byrd. Good thing the Ravens aren’t the Orioles.