Starting today at noon, teams can officially start negotiating with the representatives for pending unrestricted free agents. Contracts can’t be officially completed until after 4 p.m. Wednesday. However, by the end of the “legal tampering window,” many of the top unrestricted free agents, a group that includes Ravens offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele, will pretty much know where they’re playing in 2016 and beyond. The belief all along has been that if Osemele hits an open market saturated with teams with money to spend and offensive line needs, you can probably forget about him returning to the Ravens. We’ll see how it plays out.
Whether or not the Ravens finalize a deal with cornerback Shareece Wright, they’ll still likely add another cornerback in free agency or the draft. It’s a very good free agent cornerback class, too. Prince Amukamara (New York Giants), Nolan Carroll (Philadelphia Eagles), Casey Hayward (Green Bay Packers), Janoris Jenkins (Los Angeles Rams), Adam Jones (Cincinnati Bengals), Leodis McKelvin (Buffalo Bills) and Sean Smith (Kansas City Chiefs) are just a few of the names available. Since he was let go by the Bills last week, McKelvin also comes with the bonus that he wouldn’t cost the Ravens in the compensation pick formula.
Maybe Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones, the ultimate showman, is bluffing. The Ravens can only hope. Jones’ insistence that the Cowboys won’t draft a quarterback with the fourth overall pick isn’t good news for the Ravens. The Ravens’ best chance for one of the top defensive players in the draft to fall to them at pick No.6 always was to have at least two teams in the top five take a quarterback. It’s believed that the Cleveland Browns will select North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz or California’s Jared Goff at two, although that’s hardly a sure thing. Beyond them, the Tennessee Titans certainly aren’t taking a quarterback with the top pick, nor are the San Diego Chargers at three or the Jacksonville Jaguars at five. The Cowboys have other needs beyond an insurance policy for their injury-prone starting quarterback Tony Romo. Another team can always trade up in the top five and grab a quarterback. If not and Jones isn’t bluffing, it’s going to be tough for guys like Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey, Ohio State pass rusher Joey Bosa and perhaps even UCLA linebacker Myles Jack to fall to the Ravens at six. Then again, Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize.
I don’t believe, by the way, that last week’s release of starting middle linebacker Daryl Smith was done as a precursor to drafting Jack. The Ravens don’t operate that way and they cannot be sure that Jack will be on the board at six anyway. Smith’s release was more reflective of a desire to get quicker and more athletic in the middle of the field. That being said, Jack sure would be a nice addition.
Will Courtney Upshaw become the latest Raven defensive player to land in Indianapolis? I’m not sure if the Colts are interested or not, but it makes a lot of sense, especially with Upshaw’s long-time position coach in Baltimore, Ted Monachino, now running the Colts’ defense. Upshaw isn’t the prototypical edge rusher that the Colts are looking to add, but he brings two traits that Indianapolis definitely needs: physicality and nastiness. The Ravens love Upshaw, but there has been no indication that they’ve been aggressive in trying to retain him.
It would not only be a great story if the Ravens drafted Alabama cornerback and Baltimore native Cyrus Jones, who starred at Gilman before going on to win two national championships with the Crimson Tide, it would fill a need. Jones would not only bring speed and play-making ability to a secondary that badly needs it, he could help the Ravens’ return game. Jones returned four punts for touchdowns this past season at Alabama. Nothing against current Raven wide receiver Kaelin Clay, who did a nice job for the most part on punt returns during the second half of last season. However, it’s going to be tough to carry Clay as an exclusive returner next season when there are so many wide receivers ahead of him on the depth chart. For roster management purposes, it’s ideal to have a returner who also contributes at least on a part-time basis on offense or defense. Drafting Jones would almost be like filling two roster spots with one player for the Ravens.
At some point – if it hasn’t happened already – the Ravens figure to at least explore contract extension talks with standout nose tackle Brandon Williams this season. Williams is entering the final year on his rookie contract, and as one of the NFL’s best nose tackles, he’s ready to cash in. The Ravens should get a better idea about how much he’ll cost when they see the deals that this year’s top free agent defensive linemen, a group that includes the New York Jets’ Damon Harrison and the San Francisco 49ers’ Ian Williams, get on the open market.
I’ve downplayed the likelihood of the Ravens adding certain veteran free agent wide receivers, like Roddy White, Andre Johnson and Greg Jennings, who were all released in recent days. My response is that the Ravens need to get younger and quicker at the position. One guy, however, that I wouldn’t completely rule out is Brandon LaFell, who was let go by the New England Patriots last week. LaFell had an extremely difficult 2015 season, struggling with injuries and drops. But he’s just one season removed from an 87-catch and nine-touchdown campaign (postseason numbers included). He also happens to be extremely close with Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. LaFell doesn’t qualify as the game-breaking, speedy threat that the Ravens really need, but he’s a proven veteran who should come reasonably cheap.