www.baltimoresun.com/sports/ravens/bs-sp-ravens-eugene-monroe-0313-20140312,0,7116914.story

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Ravens watching wide receiver market while taking care of their key players

By Jeff Zrebiec and Aaron Wilson, The Baltimore Sun

9:10 PM EDT, March 12, 2014

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Several receiving options remain available on the free-agent market and one big name, the Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith, could become available soon. There are a number of veteran offensive linemen who are still unsigned, while the market at safety and middle linebacker — two positions of need for the Ravens — continues to thin out.

However, in Day 2 of free agency, the Ravens focused on taking care of their own. After officially signing Eugene Monroe and declaring him their left tackle “for many years to come,” the Ravens struck a four-year deal with Jacoby Jones, keeping one of the heroes of the team’s run to the Super Bowl XLVII title in the organization.

The deal for Jones, a proven deep threat and one of the game’s fastest returners, has a maximum value of $14 million if he hits all his incentive clauses, sources said. It also includes $4.5 million in guaranteed money and a $2 million incentive clause based on number of catches.

Jones had spent part of the day visiting with New York Giants officials before his agent hammered out the deal with the Ravens, who place a high value on the 29-year-old’s speed and play-making ability. Jones has 10 touchdowns in two seasons with the Ravens.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh maintained all along that the team would be aggressive in trying to re-sign its free agents and the organization’s three biggest offseason roster moves so far have been contract extensions for Monroe, Jones and tight end Dennis Pitta.

“To build from Dennis and Eugene now as our first two guys that we signed, two guys on our own team are really lynchpin-type guys for us on offense is really important,” Harbaugh said before the Jones deal was announced. Jones will sign his new contract Thursday.

The Ravens, who watched defensive tackle Arthur Jones sign with the Indianapolis Colts on Tuesday, lost another key defensive player Wednesday as cornerback Corey Graham signed a four-year deal with his hometown team, the Buffalo Bills, that could be worth as much as $20 million.

The Ravens had interest in re-signing Graham, viewing him as an ideal No.3 corner behind Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith, and an experienced option in the slot. Graham had a team-leading six interceptions over the past two seasons and was also a standout on special teams. However, the Ravens weren’t able to convince him to return and now they are in the market for another cornerback in either free agency or the draft to compete with holdovers Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson for the No.3 role.

“Early in the free agency process, we identified Corey Graham as a player who would help our football team,” Bills general manager Doug Whaley said in a statement released by the team.  “Graham is a smart, physical and tough cornerback who has had success with both the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens.  He is a playmaker defensively and on special teams.”

The Ravens valued Jones in a similar manner. Despite missing four games last season after hurting his knee in the season-opening loss to the Denver Broncos, Jones caught 37 balls for 455 yards and two touchdowns. A Pro Bowl-selection in 2012, Jones also remained one of the league’s most dangerous return men, averaging 28.8 yards per kickoff return, plus a touchdown, and 12.5 yards on punt returns.
 
Jones has four return scores in three seasons with the Ravens, though he’s probably best remembered for his 70-yard touchdown catch on a Joe Flacco heave with 31 seconds remaining to tie the 2012 AFC divisional playoff against the Broncos. Three weeks later, Jones set a Super Bowl record with a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and 290 combined yards and two touchdowns in the Ravens’ 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
 
With new coordinator Gary Kubiak, who coached Jones in Houston, running the offense, the Ravens are hoping to relocate their down-field passing attack, where Jones’ speed is an asset. However, they remain in the market for another possession-type receiver who can work from the slot.

They have maintained interest in New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman. According to sources, Edelman is not currently scheduled to take a free-agent visit to Baltimore, though interest is mutual. Another option is Pittsburgh Steelers free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who took a visit with the Jacksonville Jaguars and is scheduled to meet with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday, according to a source.

Golden Tate, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks, became the first top free agent wide receiver to leave the market as he signed today with the Detroit Lions, but other familiar name remain, including Eric Decker, Hakeem Nicks and James Jones.

However, the Ravens remain intrigued by one receiver who isn’t quite on the free agent market yet, though he could be as early as Thursday.

The Panthers have been trying to trade Steve Smith, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, but his age (34) and his contract (he carries a $7 million cap figure for 2014), have been prohibitive in that quest. Barring a change, the Panthers may have no other option but to release Smith whose relationship with general manager Dave Gettleman has turned sour.

“It's obvious the Panthers are going in a different direction with their receiving corps," Smith’s agent Derrick Fox said in an interview with The Sun. "Steve will be throwing on a jersey for another team to be named soon."

Should Smith be cut, the Ravens are expected to heavily pursue him, according to league sources. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are another team expected to be involved.

Smith could provide the physical, experienced presence the Ravens have lacked since trading Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers last year. 

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com and awilson@baltsun.com