About five days into free agency, here’s the list of the Ravens’ top five needs:
1.) Cornerback: Nobody expected the Ravens to bid on the top free agent corners, but they need to add a veteran at the position at some point, along with drafting one early next month.
2.) Pass rusher: Again, the cupboard is not bare. The Ravens have Terrell Suggs, Matthew Judon and Za’Darius Smith coming back. But they need a high-impact edge rusher and the draft is probably the best place to get it.
3.) Wide receiver: Fans are clearly getting restless with the team’s failure to add another target for Joe Flacco. The one-year deal signed by Terrelle Pryor seemed to be manageable for the Ravens. You have to wonder what general manager Ozzie Newsome has up his sleeve here.
4.) Right tackle: Ravens’ officials have spoken quite a bit about upgrading the offensive line. Well, there isn’t an upgrade over Rick Wagner available on the free agent market, nor is there is an obvious internal candidate to step in. The draft features a weak offensive tackle class as well.
5.) Inside linebacker: I considered putting center here, but the Ravens at least know what they have in Jeremy Zuttah. Kamalei Correa, the potential in-house replacement for Zachary Orr, is a complete unknown and didn’t distinguish himself as a rookie.
Secondary moves: Lot of questions about whether the Ravens withdrawing the original-round tenders to restricted free agents Jumal Rolle and Marqueston Huff portends the addition of free agent cornerback Morris Claiborne. The simple answer is "No."
The Huff move seems more of a reaction to the re-signing of reserve safety/special teams ace Anthony Levine Sr. But whether it’s for Claiborne or another free agent, the Ravens will need more cap flexibility the rest of the offseason. As for Claiborne, the Ravens have remained engaged and are trying to sign the former first-round pick. They’ve yet to meet the asking price, but they’re certainly in the mix.
A developmental FB on the roster: Some may include fullback on the list of needs after Kyle Juszczyk’s departure, but I’m not in that camp. I think tight end Nick Boyle could be used in the fullback/H-back role on occasion. And Lorenzo Taliaferro, who is pretty low on the running back depth chart, should be considered as well.
I haven’t seen much of Taliaferro on the practice or game field over the past couple of years, so I don’t have a good sense of him as a blocker. However, there’s no downside to him trying to make the transition at this point. The Ravens have Terrance West, Kenneth Dixon, Danny Woodhead and probably Buck Allen ahead of Taliaferro on the tailback depth chart. They’ll also likely draft a running back.
Even with Dixon subject to a four-game suspension to start the season, Taliaferro will face long odds to make the team as a tailback. Why not try him as a fullback? At 6-foot, 225 pounds, Taliaferro is a good athlete and a strong guy, and maybe he can become a smaller but more athletic Le’Ron McClain. What do you have to lose at this point?
Good money: The four-year, $21 million deal the San Francisco 49ers gave Juszczyk wasn’t even the most surprising contract signed by a former Raven last week. How about the two-year, $9 million pact that backup quarterback Matt Schaub signed with the Atlanta Falcons? I got some complaints that the Ravens invested $2 million to re-sign their backup, Ryan Mallett. Schaub got double that.
Yanda a bargain: The rash of deals signed by the top guards on the free agent market this year should gives Ravens’ fans and the organization one more reason to be grateful for Marshal Yanda. When the perennial Pro Bowl performer signed a five-year, $34.1 million deal in October 2015, he was among the highest-paid guards in the sport. Now, there are 11 guards who are making more in average per year than Yanda will get in 2017. I get that salaries go up every year, but that’s still pretty ridiculous.
Never too late for vets: With all the handwringing about the diminishing pool of free agents available at certain positions of need for the Ravens, remember that there are usually a handful of veterans that become available after the draft, too. Teams fill needs in the draft and opt to go younger, and in the process, they move on from some high-priced veterans either through releases or trades. Every year, Newsome seems to make a late-offseason addition anyway.
Comp picks a factor: I always am amazed with the fan and media obsession around these parts -- which I admittedly take part in -- with compensatory picks. However, you know that it will factor into the team’s free-agent decision-making from this point on.
I haven’t seen the specifics on Vladimir Ducasse’s deal with the Buffalo Bills to know whether the Ravens are currently plus one or plus two. The loss of Juszczyk, Rick Wagner and Lawrence Guy should factor, while the signings of Tony Jefferson and Woodhead will count against them in the compensation formula.
Their only other current free agent that could impact things is wide receiver Kamar Aiken. You’d have to think that if Newsome is going to forfeit a mid-round comp pick or two, he’s going to do it with a high-upside signing. Free agents who were released by other teams, such as center Nick Mangold and pass rusher Connor Barwin, won’t factor into the compensatory formula because they were released.
Tough break for CB prospect: Awful news with prospective first-round cornerback Sidney Jones who reportedly blew out his Achilles while participating in the University of Washington’s pro day Saturday. Jones was widely considered the second best cornerback in a loaded draft class, and I’ve spoken to a few people who even had him ranked ahead of Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore.
I considered Jones still being on the board at No. 16 as the Ravens’ best-case scenario. They figure to have plenty of other cornerbacks to choose from with guys like Florida’s Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson, Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey, LSU’s TreDavious White, Ohio State’s Gareon Conley and USC’s Adoree Jackson all expected to come off the board at some point between the middle of the first round and the middle of the second.
However, you still have to have some empathy for Jones who will undoubtedly drop in the draft if he’s projected to be sidelined for his entire rookie season. Somebody, though, will take a chance on him – and probably sooner than most think – with the idea to let him redshirt a year.
If he gets healthy and returns in 2018 and it’s almost like you have two first-round picks. If I’m a team like the Cleveland Browns and I’m in rebuilding mode and have 11 picks, including five in the first three rounds, I’d take Jones in a heartbeat.