By Jeff Zrebiec
9:33 AM EDT, April 2, 2012
As we head into Week Four of free agency, it’s probably a good time to point out that the Ravens are currently just $1.75 million under the salary cap, which is probably right around the amount of money that they’re going to need to pay their draft picks. There are certainly ways to gain financial flexibility. Signing quarterback Joe Flacco or running back Ray Rice or even cornerback Lardarius Webb to long-term contract extensions would help immensely. Restructuring a couple of contracts, like perhaps Ed Reed’s deal, would also provide relief, though Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has said on several occasions that he prefers not to resort to those measures. There is also the option of releasing some players, but as I’ve said on numerous occasions, I just don’t see any obvious candidates. Either way, the Ravens will figure out a way. They’ll have to. They still have too many needs right now – pass rusher, veteran running back, wide receiver, two or three offensive linemen, kick returner, defensive line, linebacker and safety depth – to expect to fill all their holes in the draft.
ESPN draft guru Todd McShay recently broke from the mock draft norm and had the Ravens selecting a defensive player (Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith) in the first round of April’s draft. McShay has obviously done his homework and knows way more about the draft than I will ever know. And I have heard that the Ravens do really like Smith and Alabama safety Mark Barron. However, my guess would still be that the Ravens go offensive line or wide receiver with their first pick. I think it would take a pretty attractive defensive option to fall to them to go that route. I could see a good pass rusher like Whitney Mercilus (Illinois) or Melvin Ingram (South Carolina) getting their undivided attention, but both are expected to be long gone by the time the Ravens pick at 29. I also think Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower would force them to make a difficult decision. However, his status is on the rise and now it appears that he’ll be gone by the time the Ravens pick as well. Ravens officials are expected to address the draft later this week. They’re obviously not going to reveal too much about their plans, but we should get a better idea on how they feel about certain players.
Ravens officials obviously were optimistic after their visit a couple of weeks back with Bryant McKinnie, but that hardly means the pressure is off the big left tackle. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said at last week’s owners meetings that McKinnie was in the “same shape he was in when he left.” Obviously, you can take a positive out of the fact that there has been no offseason regression, but team officials want McKinnie to be in better shape than he was in last year. They want him to be able to move better and be a little quicker. The next couple of months will be huge for McKinnie because I’d be surprised if the Ravens, at some point of the draft, don’t draft an offensive tackle. They also appear to be pretty high on Ramon Harewood, who spent last season on injured reserve.
Former Ravens running back Ricky Williams went on an Austin, Texas radio station, 103.1 FM, and said that he’d consider ending his retirement and playing for his hometown San Diego Chargers, according to the station’s program director, Joe Madani. Something to remember, though, is the Ravens still hold the rights to Williams, who they placed on the retired/restricted list after the season. I don’t think anybody would be shocked if Williams ultimately decides during training camp or after the season that he misses football and wants to play again. The precedent is there. But when/if he does, he’ll be a Raven unless they decide to let him loose.
Not sure this belongs here or you’ll even care, but I figured I’d pass this along anyway: Ravens backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor is a ridiculously good basketball player. He turned the fourth quarter of Torrey Smith’s charity basketball game the other night into his own personal And1 Mixtape. He slammed down an alley-oop pass from half court. He put the ball around his back on his way to one layup and he hit numerous step-back 3-pointers. It was quite the show. You can see why team officials rave about his athleticism. He makes everything look so damn easy.
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