Regardless of what the Ravens decide to do with Lardarius Webb, whose $7.5 million salary cap number could put his roster status in jeopardy, general manager Ozzie Newsome badly needs to find a young safety in April’s draft.
Like tight end on the offensive side of the ball, the Ravens have poured a ton of resources into the safety position since Ed Reed moved on. They’ve signed veterans such as Michael Huff, Darian Stewart, Will Hill, Kendrick Lewis and Eric Weddle. They’ve used early to mid-round draft picks on Christian Thompson, Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks. They moved Webb from cornerback to safety.
Yet, they might be thinner at safety right now than at any other position. Elam and Anthony Levine Sr. are both unrestricted free agents. Marqueston Huff is a restricted free agent and there’s no guarantee that he’ll get tendered a contract. Webb and Lewis are potential cap casualties.
And even if he stays – and there’s a case to be made that he should - Webb turns 32 in October and has one year remaining on his contract. Weddle is already 32. The Ravens could be active in the free agent market, but even if they sign a veteran, they still should draft a safety relatively early.
It’s a strong draft for safeties and the Ravens need to take full advantage after swinging and missing at the position far too often over the past handful of years.
Lack of receiver depth could keep Wallace here: Just food for thought: If the Ravens decline Mike Wallace’s 2017 option over the next couple of weeks, their current wide receiver depth chart will look something like this: Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore, Chris Matthews, Keenan Reynolds, Vince Mayle and Kenny Bell. Michael Campanaro, who is a restricted free agent, would slot in behind Perriman, assuming he’s back.
No disrespect to any of those guys, but I just don’t see how the Ravens can walk away from Wallace without having already added another veteran wide receiver. That would put far too much pressure on the front office to land a receiver both in free agency and early in the draft.
Price of Pitta: As ESPN’s Jamison Hensley pointed out last week, the Ravens would create more dead money on their salary cap ($4.4) by cutting tight end Dennis Pitta than they’d get in actual cap savings ($3.3 million). The Ravens could make Pitta a post-June 1 cut and spread out the dead money over two years. It goes without saying that a pay cut would be preferable to the Ravens, but that could be a tough sell to Pitta, given he took a significant one last year before making most of it back in incentives.
Unlikely to trade up: The Ravens will plug some holes in free agency before the draft even gets here. But as things stand, their myriad needs seemingly make it unlikely for them to package picks to move up in certain rounds.
They currently have seven picks – one in each round – but they’re expected to get an eighth when the compensatory selections are awarded at next month’s owner’s meetings.
You figure they’ll draft a running back, at least one wide receiver, at least one offensive lineman, at least one edge rusher, an inside linebacker, a safety and at least one (but probably two) cornerbacks.
And Newsome has drafted at least one defensive lineman/end in eight straight drafts, so you can probably expect that streak to continue. The point is it’s probably more likely the team trades back in a few rounds and tries to pick up a few more picks rather than sacrificing some to move up.
Tyrod to Cleveland would be bad for Ravens: If I’m the Ravens, I’m hoping that the Buffalo Bills work things out with quarterback Tyrod Taylor and keep him as their starter. If the Bills release the former Joe Flacco backup, the Cleveland Browns are reportedly ready to pounce. That wouldn’t be good news for the Ravens, who would have to prepare to play against Taylor twice a season.
I’m well aware that the Ravens completely shut their former teammate down last September in the season-opening victory against the Bills. However, Taylor pairing with Browns head coach and offensive play caller Hue Jackson would provide some headaches.
Jackson’s offenses seem to give the Ravens some trouble, regardless of who is at quarterback. Beyond the competition aspect, adding Taylor could also take the Browns out of the market for a first-round quarterback in April. The Browns have the first and 12th overall picks in the first round.
Each quarterback that goes in the top 15 – and there’s no guarantee that any will be selected that early – will be widely applauded by the Ravens, because it will increase the chances of certain players falling to them at 16.
Franchise tag time: Wednesday marks the first day teams are allowed to apply the franchise tag on potential free agents. Unlike last year, when the Ravens wasted no time in confirming their intentions to put the tag on kicker Justin Tucker, the franchise window figures to be quiet for them this year.
It’s not completely out of the question that they’d use the tag on nose tackle Brandon Williams, but that seems highly unlikely, given the approximate $14 million price tag. Otherwise, the tag window could affect the Ravens indirectly.
It’s worth watching whether the Chicago Bears franchise wide receiver Alshon Jeffery for a second straight season. If they don’t, Jeffery would likely be the top free agent wide receiver available.
The Browns also will have a decision to make on wide receiver Terrelle Pryor, who they might need to franchise to prevent from hitting the open market. The Browns have so much cap space that carrying Pryor under the franchise figure wouldn’t be all that prohibitive. As for the Ravens, the more top receivers that hit the open market, the better.