The NFL offseason heats up on Tuesday when the free agency period begins and the NFL draft will take place next month. In anticipation of those events, blogger and reporter Matt Vensel will look at six key positions the Ravens might address in free agency and the NFL draft in the days leading up to the start of free agency.
After finishing tied for third in sacks in 2011, the Ravens fell back into the middle of the pack with 37 sacks a year ago. There were a few significant factors in play -- the major injuries to Terrell Suggs, nagging ones to guys like Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee, and a change in defensive coordinators before the season -- but their struggles in getting to the quarterback consistently put a lot a stress on the back end of the defense.
General manager Ozzie Newsome said last month that the Ravens will always try to find more quality pass rushers every offseason, but that need is especially pressing considering they will likely lose Paul Kruger.
Keeping Kruger is a long shot, but the Ravens might be able to boost their pass rush without breaking the bank this offseason.
Where they stand: There has been speculation that Kruger, who thrived as a situational pass rusher last year but has not proven himself as an every-down player, could get upwards of $10 million a year on the open market. The Ravens simply will not be able to match that kind of salary. Getting Suggs back to full health will help compensate for that loss, and young players like Courtney Upshaw and McPhee might have to give more as pass rushers.
Who’s out there: Kruger is among the most attractive options for teams looking for an edge rusher in a 3-4 scheme. Other productive pass rushers, including defensive ends, include Detroit's Cliff Avril, Atlanta's John Abraham, Indianapolis' Dwight Freeney, New York's Osi Umenyiora, Tampa Bay's Michael Bennett, and Houston’s Connor Barwin. The Ravens will have options, but the challenge will be finding an inexpensive veteran who can be productive in their scheme. The top of the draft is said to be stocked with those tweener edge rushers who could chase after quarterbacks for the Ravens. Perhaps the Ravens will luck out and watch someone like Georgia's Jarvis Jones or Florida State's Tank Carradine fall to them at the end of the first round. If not, the Ravens might be able to find their next Kruger in the second or third day of the draft.
Stat that stands out: 12 -- sacks from Kruger in the final 12 games of the season, including playoffs. After recording just 1.5 sacks in the first half of the season, Kruger caught fire down the stretch. He had at least one sack in six of his final eight games and added 4.5 sacks in the playoffs, including two in the Super Bowl. Prior to 2012, though, Kruger recorded just eight total sacks, including playoffs, in his first three NFL seasons.
What they might do: The Ravens are expected to let Kruger test free agency and they know it is unlikely he will return via the fabled hometown discount. But grabbing another pass rusher, perhaps one who can be an every-down player, will probably be a high priority in this draft, especially given how strong this class is said to be in the trenches. Finding a productive pass rusher in the free-agent bargain bin would also be beneficial.
Check back at the Blitz blog Saturday for a look at how the Ravens might address the defensive tackle position.