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Ravens' news, notes and opinions on the start of free agency

When the free-agent market officially opens at 4 p.m. today, it isn’t expected to be long before the top available offensive tackles – Branden Albert (Glen Burnie), Jared Velheer and Rodger Saffold – have new homes. But what about Eugene Monroe? Four days ago, when the “tampering window” opened and representatives of free agents were allowed to start talking with teams, it seemed inevitable that Monroe would be playing his football somewhere else in 2014. By the end of the weekend, things had seemingly turned in the Ravens’ favor and it appeared that the two sides were on the right track to getting a deal done. Now, it’s anybody’s guess what will happen. The bet here is the Ravens and Monroe work something out at some point today because the continued pairing seems like a great fit for both sides. But I have little confidence in that prediction, given the events of the past couple days and the fact that the Ravens have proven many times in the past that they are not afraid to move on from a player if they don’t like what they are hearing.

My colleague, Matt Vensel, wrote yesterday about how cornerback Corey Graham might not be as easy for the Ravens to replace as some might think, and I very much agree. Graham is quick, tough, smart, and he has really good ball skills, which explain his six regular-season interceptions over the past two seasons. The Ravens would like to bring him back, but Graham wants to be a starting cornerback, which he wouldn’t be in Baltimore behind Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith. He’s had no shortage of suitors thus far, and one team that makes some sense is the Detroit Lions. There, Graham would be reunited with his former position coach in Baltimore, Teryl Austin, who is now the Lions defensive coordinator. Meanwhile, the Ravens will need to add at least one more cornerback in either free agency or the NFL draft. I haven’t seen enough consistency from Chykie Brown or Asa Jackson to suggest that either is necessarily ready to step into the No. 3 cornerback role, though Brown has improved steadily over the years.

Tight end Ed Dickson is seemingly heading into free agency at the worst possible time, coming off a season in which he had just 25 catches in 16 games. However, he may just take advantage of a pretty thin group of free-agent tight ends. The New Orleans Saints’ decision to franchise Jimmy Graham and the Ravens’ re-signing of Dennis Pitta leaves the Green Bay Packers’ Jermichael Finley, the Lions’ Brandon Pettigrew and the Houston Texans’ Garrett Graham as arguably the top three free-agent tight ends. And Finley is a significant risk as he’s still yet to get full medical clearance after a neck injury ended his 2013 season and required surgery. Dickson, who has a lot of talent but could probably use a change of scenery, is one of the top second-tier options, and he should be pretty attractive to teams that don’t want to pay top dollar for a tight end. Both New York teams along with the Lions are among those reportedly interested in the 26-year-old.

As an aside, I think Pettigrew would be a really good fit for the Ravens, though I highly doubt that they’d be willing to shell out a decent bit of money for a No. 2 tight end. In Gary Kubiak’s offense, though, having two quality tight ends is important, so at some point – whether it’s in the draft or in free agency – the Ravens are going to have to find a complement to Pitta.

Multiple reports have linked defensive end Arthur Jones with the Indianapolis Colts, and that would be my guess to where he ends up as well. As expected, Jones has attracted a ton of interest, but he’s never hid his fondness for Colts head coach and former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. Plus, the Colts are a playoff team with plenty of salary cap room to accommodate Jones, who unlike Dickson, picked a great time to have his best season.

It doesn’t surprise me that wide receiver-kick returner Jacoby Jones has attracted significant interest (ESPN’s Josina Anderson reported Monday that four teams would like Jones to come in for a free-agent visit). Jones made quite a highlight film the past two seasons, and there will always be a market for speed and playmaking ability. However, I don’t blame the Ravens for sticking to their plan and not going overboard to keep him off the free-agent market. No disrespect to Jones, a big game-player who probably should have been the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player. But I agree with the school of thought that he’s a luxury item at this point. The Ravens figure to add at least one receiver either in free agency or the draft, which could push Jones further down the wide receiver depth chart. And it’s tough to make a huge financial commitment to a return man -- as good as Jones is -- especially with so many kickers booting touchbacks more often than not.

Speaking of wide receivers, the situation with Steve Smith and the Carolina Panthers is certainly worth monitoring for Ravens fans. The Panthers are reportedly trying to trade the receiver and if they can’t find a taker -- and that will be difficult given his contract situation -- they could end up releasing him. It’s too early to speculate being that Smith is not yet available, but I’d have to imagine that he’d garner significant interest from the Ravens. He possesses many of the qualities that general manager Ozzie Newsome and company are looking for in a receiver. He can work in the slot, he has good hands, he’s dangerous after the catch, and he plays with a chip on his shoulder. Adding him to a group of targets that includes Pitta, Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown and probably an early round draft choice of either a tight end or a wide receiver would be a significant step to an impressive offseason makeover.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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