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Mike Preston: Ravens need to stick to ‘right player, right price’ approach to free agency | COMMENTARY

Near the end of last week, there was a call for Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller. The week before, there was speculation about Houston Texans defensive end J. J. Watt coming to Baltimore.

Whatever ailed the Ravens, there is always a demand for player acquisition soon after the season ends regardless if free agency and the annual draft are still weeks away. The actual free agency period begins on March 17, but if Baskin Robbins or Howard Johnson’s can have an ice cream flavor of the month, so can Ravens fans.

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If it’s not on Miller or Watt, then maybe the Ravens should sign Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson II or Detroit Lions wide out Kenny Golladay. New England guard Joe Thuney might look good in the purple and black. Hey, it’s the cure all the time in the NFL, just pick a free agent and plug him in.

Over at The Castle, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta and staff have to be laughing because finding the right offseason additions is tedious work, centered around numerous days and hours. This isn’t fantasy football. Millions of dollars and livelihoods are at stake which is why teams have to hit on free agents or successfully trade for veterans more than they lose.

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In the past two years, the Ravens have won on players such as running back Mark Ingram II, cornerback Marcus Peters and defensive lineman Calais Campbell, but also lost on safety Earl Thomas III and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.

Watt is an interesting prospect. He has the credentials having been the league’s Defensive Player of the Year three times, and he can still occasionally dominate a game. But there are whispers around the league that he also has knee problems that have slowed him.

Watt missed 19 games in the past three years due to injuries. He had a lot of hits on the quarterback last season when he finished with 52 tackles, but the lack of closing speed hurt him. Watt would be a great fit in Cleveland where he would play opposite star defensive end Myles Garrett, but he would be a primary target in Baltimore drawing consistent slides and double teams.

He’d be more efficient if the Ravens cut down his playing time, but would Watt want that and at what cost?

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Money and each team’s salary cap situation are always at the top of negotiations, especially for players such as Robinson, Watt and Texans receiver Will Fuller V. The system is set up now where the players’ most lucrative contract is the second one, so established players about to enter their prime don’t come cheap.

Baltimore has been “veteran friendly” through the years for players such as Dez Bryant, Willie Snead IV and D.J. Fluker. But top stars will have other demands. Maybe Robinson or Golladay will not want to play for a team that has a limited passing game and runs the ball as much as Baltimore does.

Personality also plays a part.

In the past two years, the Ravens were a relatively young team and possibly couldn’t absorb a high-maintenance player, but the nucleus of this team is older now. Harbaugh has shown he can work with temperamental players like Peters, but not totally destructive ones such as Thomas.

Former Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome used to say, “right player, right price” when talking about free agency, but that was mainly about fitting in under the salary cap. There are just so many other parts of the equation, which is why teams spend much time poring over video, talking to assistant coaches, checking medical reports and doing off-the-field background checks before making decisions on players.

They look at the previous offenses and defenses these guys played in which also plays a factor. Team chemistry is an often-used phrase in professional sports, but it all has to come together for a team to be successful.

A lot of things have to mix and match. You just can’t plug in names and everything works.

That doesn’t even work in the fantasy leagues.

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