The Ravens continued the renovation of their defense on Wednesday, signing former Oakland Raiders safety Michael Huff to a three-year deal worth $6 million. He is the fourth defender the Ravens have signed in free agency, along with pass rusher Elvis Dumervil and defensive linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears.
With the Ravens being forced to pinch pennies and cut ties with a couple of valuable veterans due to their tight salary cap situation, we have been talking a lot about the "right player at the right price" this offseason. It is hard to find fault with that bargain-bin price. However, what kind of play should we expect from Huff?
The Raiders drafted Huff, who went to Texas, with the seventh overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft. Fitting the old Oakland stereotype, Huff was a track guy with blazing straight-line speed. (That being said, the Ravens also had interest in Huff, but with him gone by pick No. 12, they ended up drafting defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.)
Huff played a few different positions in the secondary during his six seasons in Oakland, including both safety spots and an inside cornerback in sub packages. He eventually settled in as the starting free safety. But last season, they were forced to move him to cornerback due to injuries at that position. Huff was out of his element, and his grades from Pro Football Focus indicated that his play was up and down.
Make no mistake, though, Huff is here to replace Reed at free safety. (Yes, I know some of you bristle at the word "replace" and that Huff won't be as good as Reed was in his prime, but they aren't going to leave the position vacant now that Reed is in Houston.) At the very least, Huff should be as solid as Reed would have been in coverage, though he does not have the same kind of instincts that the old ballhawk has.
Huff should be more reliable against the run, though. Pro Football Focus has graded him as a slightly above average run defender in each of the past three seasons. And they say he has missed 18 tackles in the past three seasons combined. Reed missed 21 tackles last season alone, including the postseason.
If the 2013 season were to start today -- and I am aware that it doesn't -- Huff and strong safety James Ihedigbo, who was re-signed this offseason, would likely be the starting safeties. And while the Ravens have young safeties Omar Brown and Anthony Levine, they are still expected to draft a safety in next month's NFL draft. They could even take two like they did in 2008 with Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura.
This is a deep draft class for safeties, and there are a few who appear to be interchangeable at both the free safety and strong safety positions. With the evolution of the tight end position, those hybrid safeties are going to become very valuable.
Huff, 30, brings a little bit of everything to the table, and that versatility should make him a nice addition for that Ravens, especially at that price. It's going to be interesting to see how they use him this season.
No, he won't be Reed was in his prime. But he should be better than Reed is right now. And a lot cheaper.