In a span of 48 hours, the free agent edge rusher market thinned considerably.
The Panthers re-signed Mario Addison to a three-year deal on Sunday. On Monday, the Arizona Cardinals announced that they’ll use the franchise tag on Chandler Jones, and the New York Giants notified their top pending free agent, Jason Pierre-Paul, that he’ll get franchised, according to multiple reports.
Assuming that the ageless James Harrison re-signs with the Pittsburgh Steelers -- and that’s the reported plan -- the free-agent edge-rushing class will be headed by the Green Bay Packers’ Nick Perry, who had 11 sacks last year but only 12 ½ of them in his first four NFL seasons, and the New England Patriots’ Jabaal Sheard, who has 36 career sacks in six NFL seasons.
In other words, if the Ravens are going to fill their edge-rushing void, they’ll likely have to do it in April’s draft. And there is some good news along that front: the draft is loaded with promising edge rushers.
“There are eight guys that I have potential first-round grades on the edge,” NFL Network’s lead draft analyst Mike Mayock said in a conference call Monday. “So anybody looking for an edge [rusher] in the first round is going to find them.”
Picking 16th in the first round, the Ravens obviously won’t have a shot at Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett, who is projected to go first overall to the Cleveland Browns. Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas is considered a near-lock to be selected in the top-10 as well.
However, if they don’t take a cornerback or opt to add a skill position player on offense, the Ravens should have an opportunity to select from a host of pass rushers. That group could include Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, Alabama’s Tim Williams, UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley and Michigan’s Taco Charlton. Other intriguing names are Missouri’s Charles Harris, Florida’s Jarrad Davis, Auburn’s Carl Lawson, Alabama’s Ryan Anderson and Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt, the younger brother of the Houston Texans’ star, J.J. Watt.
“There’s great quality at the top but there’s depth throughout,” said Mayock, who predicted that the Ravens will use their first-round pick to add to their front seven.
The Ravens had only 31 sacks last season. Only six teams have fewer. Terrell Suggs led the team with eight sacks and he’s expected to return, but he’s also turning 35 in October. Elvis Dumervil turns 33 and he’s a potential – if not likely – salary cap casualty. Given the lack of depth for quality edge rushers, Dumervil shouldn’t have a problem finding a job if he’s indeed let go.
And then you have two young edge rushers: Matthew Judon, who showed some promise with four sacks as a rookie, and Za’Darius Smith, who had an extremely disappointing sophomore campaign. Even if Dumervil’s back, the Ravens figured to add at least one edge rusher. If he’s gone, they could add two.
The events of the last few days make it more likely they’ll have to do it through the draft.