By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun
7:37 AM EDT, March 12, 2014
I’m sure some Ravens fans hoped that the organization broke from its tradition of being patient at this time of year and went out and used much of the approximately $19 million of salary cap space that they had on the first day of free agency. Start out by signing one or two offensive linemen. Add a prized receiver. Go out and get a middle linebacker and then a play-making safety to anchor the defense. And then be done with it all until the May draft. Of course, that was never going to happen, even with the advantage of more cap flexibility than the organization has had in a good while. The Ozzie Newsome-led front office lives by certain philosophies or mantras, and one of them goes something like this: “The longer you wait, the less you pay.” I’m sure some fans, seeing the number of holes the Ravens have, don’t want to hear it. But the same patient philosophy did help them land linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Daryl Smith last offseason on cheaper deals than far less accomplished players at their position received. The Ravens will remain active in free agency, but my guess is they exited the first day with Eugene Monroe locked in as their left tackle and Arthur Jones headed to the Indianapolis Colts, thinking that things had gone exactly as planned.
There was a lot of handwringing about the Ravens’ handling of the negotiations with Monroe and why they didn’t use the franchise tag, which would have cost more than $11 million. It was a significant risk, but as it turned out, senior vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty played the market perfectly. The Ravens got arguably the top left tackle on the market for less money than what two other tackles received.
Consider the following:
Branden Albert (signed by Miami Dolphins): Five-year deal for $46 million, including $25 million guaranteed
Rodger Saffold: (signed by Oakland Raiders): Five-year deal for $42.5 million, including $21 million guaranteed
Eugene Monroe (signed by Ravens): Five-year deal for $37.5 million, including $19 million guaranteed
Jared Veldheer (signed by Arizona Cardinals): Five-year deal for $35 million, including $17 million guaranteed
While the top tackles were gone almost immediately and several solid guards (Geoff Schwartz, Jon Asamoah and Zane Beadles) also agreed to deals, there was no real movement on the center market. That bodes well for the Ravens, who could sign a veteran to compete with or replace Gino Gradkowski.
One perhaps concerning development for the Ravens on Tuesday was the disappearance of almost every top safety from the free-agent market. By my rough estimate, 11 safeties signed deals Tuesday -- including almost all of the top-ranked ones, like Jairus Byrd (New Orleans Saints), T.J. Ward (Denver Broncos), Donte Whitner (Cleveland Browns), Antoine Bethea (Colts), Malcolm Jenkins (Philadelphia Eagles) and Mike Mitchell (Carolina Panthers). Newsome has acknowledged that the Ravens need an athletic, ball-hawking free safety to pair with Matt Elam. Their best remaining bet on the free-agent market is probably Chris Clemons, who played well for the Dolphins last season. Clemons is not a ball-hawk, but he is pretty good in coverage. Released Tuesday by the Atlanta Falcons, free safety Thomas DeCoud was a Pro Bowler in 2012, but he is coming off a subpar year during which he was picked on often in coverage.
As my former colleague, ESPN’s Jamison Hensley, pointed out Tuesday, credit Ravens rush linebacker Terrell Suggs and his agent, Joel Segal, for their foresight in agreeing to the five-year, $28.5 million deal last month. If they hadn’t worked out a deal, Suggs very well could have become a salary cap casualty, joining a free-agent market that is flush with accomplished veteran pass rushers. DeMarcus Ware, Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Shaun Phillips are all currently available. A couple may struggle to get acceptable deals, all while Suggs remains in a really good situation.
Today might be the day when the Carolina Panthers make a final decision on perennial Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith, who very well could be released and wind up at the top of the Ravens’ wish list at the position. Smith is 34 years old and has probably lost a step or two, but as I wrote in this space Tuesday, he is a very good fit for what the Ravens need. And his addition would also continue the Ravens’ habit of signing free agents released by other teams, thus not affecting the team’s ability to get draft pick compensation. Last year, the team’s primary free-agent additions -- Chris Canty, Marcus Spears, Michael Huff and Dumervil -- were all let go by teams before signing with the Ravens. Signing released players doesn’t factor into the equation that decides how many compensatory picks teams receive. The Ravens do it all the time, which is one reason why they’ve had more comp picks than any team in the NFL in recent years, and they’ll likely get four more for the 2014 draft.
Ditto for tight end Owen Daniels, who was released Tuesday by the Houston Texans. I’d imagine that Daniels will receive a good deal of interest in an otherwise thin free-agent tight end class. But if the Ravens really want him -- and they are at least intrigued by the idea -- this could come together rather quickly. But perhaps that’s banking too much on Daniels’ past with offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and tight ends coach Brian Pariani.
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