Breaking Down Baltimore Ravens Free Agency Decisions
After missing the playoffs in two consecutive seasons, the Baltimore Ravens face arguably their most pivotal offseason since their championship season, when the Ravens parted ways with Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and numerous other difference makers. There will not be that level of turnover this year, and there will be no future Hall of Famers moving on from the franchise. But the Ravens free agency decisions could be just as influential as they try to recover from two subpar years.
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Let’s take a look at all three phases – re-signings, cuts, and free agent targets.
Potential Salary Cap Casualties
Jamison Hensley broke down the list of potential salary cap casualties nicely at ESPN. To summarize:
- Elvis Dumervil (savings of $6 million)
- Lardarius Webb ($5.5 million)
- Ben Watson ($3 million)
- Shareece Wright ($2.6 million)
- Jeremy Zuttah ($2.3 million)
- Kyle Arrington ($2.1 million)
- Kendrick Lewis ($1.8 million)
Cutting Arrington and Lewis are no-brainers. They made no impact last year and don’t look likely to improve in 2017. Dumervil, despite being a fan favorite, fell off mightily in 2016 and at age 33 will probably regress further going forward. He too should be an easy decision
Webb, Wright, Watson and Zuttah are more debatable.
Zuttah was underwhelming last year, but is a better option on the roster? John Urschel has regressed since his solid rookie season, and Ryan Jensen has not impressed. Zuttah may still be worth letting go, but there will be a downgrade unless an outside option is signed.
Wright is a steady, mediocre cornerback. He is easy to pick on, but a reliable tackler. That kind of player is worth a fair bit in the NFL, and again, the Ravens’ lack of cornerback depth might increase Wright’s internal value. I’d be surprised if he is released.
Ben Watson was the Ravens’ first big free agent signing last year, and the Ravens probably want to get him on the field depending on his recovery from a torn Achilles tendon. That’s a tough injury to recover from, but the Ravens need a dose of athleticism and playmaking at tight end after incumbent Dennis Pitta averaged an abysmal 8.5 yards per catch.
Finally, Lardarius Webb successfully made the adjustment to playing safety last year. He and Eric Weddle gave the Ravens their best safety tandem since Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard terrorized quarterbacks. Despite his relatively high cap figure ($7.5 million), I think Webb stays. If he is released, don’t be surprised if he comes back on a small deal.
Brandon Williams, DT
As the most critical component of the Ravens’ dominant run defense, re-signing Brandon Williams is a top priority. Despite the lack of national recognition in the media, the rest of the NFL seems to have caught on to how talented Williams is.
Some fans seem resigned to losing Williams, assuming his price tag will be too high. There is a very real chance of that, but there is reason to believe the Ravens have a chance at retaining him. Nose tackles have not been richly compensated for the most part: Their gap-shooting 4-3 brethren have done much better financially.
And though Williams is an immense talent in the ground game, his failure to develop as a pass rusher this year played a role in the Ravens’ pass rushing woes. Frequently, Terrell Suggs or Matt Judon would get around the edge, only to have the quarterback step up in the pocket due to the lack of interior rush.
Those factors could keep Williams in Baltimore. And considering the Ravens have a talented backup in Michael Pierce, they should not get into a bidding war for his services. Anything over $11 million per year is on the edge of Williams’ value.
Kamar Aiken, WR
Another fascinating story, Kamar Aiken had a career year in 2015 before plummeting back into obscurity in 2016. Aiken lacks big-play flair, but does the little things well and generates decent separation on short and intermediate routes for a guy with his limited physical skills.
Aiken is really just a guy, and the Ravens should make him an offer as such. Any more than $4 million per year would be too much, but really the Ravens should look to use their money elsewhere.
Kyle Juszczyk, FB
What Kyle Juszczyk gets in free agency will be a case study into the value of a fullback. “Juice” is a fan favorite, known for hard hits with and without the ball in his hands. He showed some surprising pop last year as a runner, and his ability as a pass catcher out of the backfield is beyond reproach.
But can a guy who only touches the ball 40 times in a season and who isn’t a big threat really earn a big contract? Finding out the value of the most used fullback in the game will be fascinating.
Rick Wagner, OT
Another good, not great player with an expiring contract, Rick Wagner had a bounce back 2016 after struggling in 2015. Wagner is a tough technician who moves reasonably well, but lacks strength and can be beaten with speed moves. He’s a solid right tackle, and those guys don’t make a ton of money unless a team is projecting a move to left tackle. Wagner should probably be the Ravens’ second priority behind Williams, but they should keep their offers relatively low. Right tackles are not hard to find in today’s NFL.
Pierre Garcon, WR Washington
Fans are pining for Alshon Jeffery, but I’ll let another team overpay for an oft-injured guy who hasn’t gone over 1,000 yards since 2014. Pierre Garcon is more in line with the kind of receiver the Ravens go for, and his ability to create separation would be valuable on a team that saw receivers struggle to get open last year.
Kenny Stills, WR Miami
Kenny Stills would be a nice insurance policy in case Breshad Perriman fails to develop as a deep threat. Stills is hardly reliable, but his ability to make big plays would be valuable for Joe Flacco. At just 25, there is reason to believe he can continue to grow.
Anquan Boldin, WR Detroit
Why not replace one old, tough possession receiver with a former Ravens Super Bowl hero? Joe Flacco could use a guy who he trusts aside from Dennis Pitta, and Boldin can still make tough catches. It’s not like he was generating separation in his last Baltimore stint, so the extra years are not that concerning.
Jabaal Sheard, DE/OLB New England
Just 28 years old, Sheard seems like he has been around forever. He’s a solid edge rusher and run defender and should be within the Ravens’ price range. Getting him in the Ravens’ system, where front-seven players tend to excel, could make him a high upside play as well.
Larry Warford, Guard Detroit
The Ravens have claimed they want to get bigger on the offensive line, and Warford’s 317-pound frame would accomplish that. Warford might be overpaid by a team that remembers his phenomenal rookie year more clearly than his more pedestrian recent seasons, but if the price is right, Warford would be a fit for what the Ravens need on the interior of their line.
There are numerous other players the Ravens should kick the tires on. They have needs at cornerback, offensive line, running back, wide receiver and pass rusher. Getting a cornerback in free agency is usually a fool’s errand: They are just too expensive. The other needs could be filled if the Ravens are lucky.
And don’t forget, the Ravens are unlikely to sign a large quantity of unrestricted free agents. They prefer to pick up other team’s cap casualties so they can acquire compensatory picks.
Keep an eye out for those salary cap casualties, both the Ravens’ and other teams. They will ultimately decide what direction the Ravens go in free agency.