When the clock strikes 4 PM today, the NFL free agency period will be upon us. It’s a widely known fact that Ozzie Newsome is one of the top football talent evaluators on the planet, especially when it comes building through the NFL draft. But that doesn’t mean he’s gun-shy when it comes to free agency. Ozzie has opened his wallet and brought in the likes of Rod Woodson and Shannon Sharpe in the past and more recently, Matt Birk and Derrick Mason. Suggs’ pay cut and Pitta’s contract brought Baltimore’s cap space to about $22 million, good for 13th most in the NFL. However, there are some key Ravens that will hit the market, and Ozzie will have to some tough decisions to make regarding who will return to the purple and black in 2014. Here’s my take:
Who To Re-Sign: Priority numero uno is Eugene Monroe. Gotta have him back. Left tackles don’t grow on trees, and the Ravens’ need for one is paramount considering their investment under center. At age 26, Monroe is widely regarded to be a top OT on the market, with many ranking him as the best available. Negotiations with him started off sluggish but appear to be improving, and a deal around $9mil/year seems realistic. The deal may even get done before 4 today, which is great because locking up Monroe dictates how the rest of the off-season will go.
Daryl Smith was an unsung hero in the wake of Ray Lewis’ retirement. Led the team in tackles and filled the stat sheet with 5 sacks, 3 picks, and two forced fumbles. Plus he brought veteran leadership to a defense that desperately needed it in the LB corps. The demand for ILB’s is high this offseason, so he might not come cheap.
Jacoby Jones is a name I’d like to see back, although I’m not sure if that’s going to happen. Obviously brings a lot to the table in special teams, but may be too one-dimensional offensively to re-sign. My heart says yes, but my head isn’t so sure. Wouldn’t mind seeing James Ihedigbo or Corey Graham in the secondary again, but that seems unlikely.
Who To Let Walk: The King of False Starts can take a hike. Michael Oher has been a headache through and through, and his play has declined every year. He struggles with pass protection, which doesn’t fit the mold of our offense in recent years. Good riddance Big Mike.
Art Jones is a good football player. Played like a Raven in the truest sense. Jones improved every year, and gave us great memories with a sack and a fumble recovery in the Super Bowl last year. Alas, he is not worth the money that will be thrown his way in free agency, similar to the likes of Paul Kruger and Danell Ellerbe last year. Reports are saying he’s headed to Indy. It’ll be sad to see him go, but that’s the nature of today’s NFL.
Ed Dickson couldn’t catch a cold at the North Pole, Terrence Cody never really got in shape, and Dallas Clark is old, he’s just… TOO OLD! Toodles fellas.
Who to Pursue: As mentioned before, this begins and ends with Monroe. If he doesn’t re-sign, we’ll have to either re-sign Oher, pursue another LT, or both. Can’t imagine a situation where they don’t sign either, but there are other OT’s out there. Branden Albert and Jared Veldheer are solid, and will likely ask for a contract around Monroe’s asking price. Bengals OT Anthony Collins only has one year’s experience starting, and may come at a cheaper price.
Safety is another priority on Newsome’s list. With Ihedigbo likely on the way out and Matt Elam shifting over to strong safety, the Ravens are in the market for a free safety. The Bills’ Jairus Byrd is the top safety available, but is asking for $9 million. Would be out of character for the Ravens to sign a foreign free agent for that kind of money. Look for the Ravens to target Antoine Bethea or Chris Clemons, or even take a chance on converting Champ Bailey into a safety. It’s a longshot, but it’d be interesting.
Wide Receiver is a position that can be improved, and there are some notable names hitting the market. However, I’m partial to drafting a receiver in the first two rounds and signing a low-risk high-reward receiver late in the FA game. And I like last year’s 7th round pick, Aaron Mellette, to make a surprise impact next year. He showed a lot of promise in the preseason last year before losing his season to a knee injury. Notable cheap receivers might be the likes of James Jones or Sidney Rice, plus there are always cuts that happen closer to training camp. Plenty of options and one of them will come along at the right price.
The focus should be on the offensive line this offseason, and any improvement there is more than welcome. I also expect that Ozzie will sign some linebacker and cornerback depth. It’s getting to be that time of year when Newsome earns the reputation that he’s built. He has the resources, now it’s just time for him to what he does best and get to work.