Digesting the Ravens free agency moves
It’s only been one day, but it seems like a whole lot has happened in the past 24 hours. The Ravens for the first time in a long time made a big splash signing in free agency, inking Safety Tony Jefferson to a 4 year deal worth $36 million dollars. They also brought in RB Danny Woodhead, who is older and coming off an ACL injury, but has also always been a very productive 3rd down back in the NFL. He should help carry the load while Kenneth Dixon sits out his 4 game suspension and will help replace the 3rd down role that all-purpose back Kyle Juszczyk had in the offense. The biggest news was the team re-signing NT Brandon Williams to a mammoth 5 year, $54 million deal that will keep him in Baltimore for the foreseeable future. In addition to these signings, the Ravens tendered each of the RFAs and ERFAs which include RB Terrance West, OL Ryan Jensen, WR Michael Campanaro, OT James Hurst and Safety Marqueston Huff and also re-signed back-up QB Ryan Mallett.
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To make room for these new additions, the Ravens have released a number of players including Safety Kendrick Lewis, CB Shareece Wright, DB Lardarius Webb and OLB Elvis Dumervil. At first glance all of these cuts make sense, Lewis was a non-factor in 2016 and Wright found himself falling down the depth chart as his play deteriorated. Dumervil was not himself in 2016 after an Achilles procedure and was limited to playing in only 8 games. Moving on from him made was an obvious move. Lardarius Webb was the only player in this group that played in all 16 games and played well for the Ravens, but Ozzie Newsome made the decision to get younger and faster with Tony Jefferson, a player entering his prime. Perhaps the biggest loss for the Ravens was UFA RT Ricky Wagner who was signed by Detroit Lions for a reported 5 years and $47.5 million dollars – a huge contract for a very good RT.
Without the full details of the contracts, it’s hard to know how much cap space the Ravens have left to make any more free agency moves, but it seems unlikely they will have much money left to spend. So now the question is what positions on the roster are still areas of concern?
Re-signing Brandon Williams continues to make the defensive line a major strength for the Ravens. They clearly put an emphasis on stopping the run and Williams is one of the best in the NFL at clogging the middle of the line. Jefferson also injects speed and athleticism into the secondary, but with the release of Shareece Wright the Ravens may be looking to add another CB either in free agency or the draft. The team has not done anything to address ILB yet after the retirement of Zach Orr. Perhaps they are grooming 2016 2nd round pick Kamalei Correa to fill that void, but one would think another draft pick or veteran addition is likely.
Perhaps most concerning on the defense is the void at OLB now that Elvis Dumervil has been released. Not that his release was surprising in any sense, but without him the Ravens are lacking any real threat on the edge. One school of thought would suggest the Ravens are counting on the development of Za’Darius Smith, Matt Judon and Bronson Kaufusi to help improve the pass-rush, but realistically speaking the Ravens can’t be counting on any of them to become a premier pass-rusher in 2017. The Ravens need to add some talent either early in the draft or in free agency to have any hope of improving what was a dismal pass-rush in 2016.
On offense, the Ravens have essentially done very little to improve what was a mediocre group in 2016. The loss of Ricky Wagner and FB Kyle Juszczyk, and the retirement of WR Steve Smith Sr. means there are at least three starting roles that need to be filled. Hurst or 2nd year OL Alex Lewis look to be the front-runners to replace Wagner, while Ryan Jensen or John Urschel may compete for the starting LG position. Danny Woodhead is a nice addition at RB, but WR still appears to be a significant need. Ideally, the Ravens will still sign a veteran possession type receiver to fill the void left my Smith while using the draft to supplement the OL and to find a playmaker or two at WR.
Overall, the roster as it stands today is not much improved from the 2016 roster. There are still major needs that must be addressed across the board and the talent at two key positions, pass-rusher and OL, have gotten worse, not better. While there is still plenty of time for the Ravens to make some more additions either via free agency or the draft, my personal take is that the team could have spent their money better out of the gate. For the Ravens to compete in 2017 they still need to bring in a number of immediate contributors or hope that the young players on the roster can take big steps forward in the upcoming season.