PHOENIX — The Ravens continue to monitor the free agent market, hoping to plug some more holes before next month's draft. Anybody who follows the way the Ravens do business knows by now that Ozzie Newsome and company don't want to go into the draft with any gaping holes, which would allow them to stick to the best-player available strategy, rather than having their early selections dictated by major needs.
I wrote yesterday that I can't see the Ravens losing a potential compensatory pick by signing a second or third-tier free agent before June 1. But the reality is they still have a host of needs and it would be quite ambitious to expect that they'll fill all of them in the draft. They'll want to protect their likely third or fourth-round compensatory selections from the losses of Torrey Smith and Pernell McPhee, but I can't imagine the prospect of getting an extra seventh-round pick will prevent them from fortifying their secondary or getting another target for Joe Flacco. There are very few impact free agents remaining and you'd think that those players who are available have lowered their contract demands in an effort to find a new home. That should work in Newsome's favor.
** The Ravens' representation at the NFL annual meetings is not expected to include team owner Steve Bisciotti. Bisciotti has a scheduling conflict that will likely prevent him from being in Phoenix for the week. Ravens president Dick Cass could attend different meetings in Bisciotti's place.
** I've done this periodically throughout the offseason, and now, after the first and second wave of free agent, seems to be a good time to update the Ravens' five biggest needs:
1. Wide receiver: Ideally, the Ravens would like to add a veteran and another in the draft. They still could pounce on a free agent like Michael Crabtree or Greg Jennings, but the price and fit would have to be right;
2. Tight end: A case could even be made that this is the Ravens' biggest need, especially when you consider how much Flacco struggled with Dennis Pitta out two seasons ago. Crockett Gillmore should have a larger role regardless, but the Ravens still need more depth and experience at the position;
3. Cornerback: The healthy returns of Jimmy Smith and Asa Jackson and Lardarius Webb's willingness to restructure his contract were nice starts. However, a serviceable veteran and a highly-drafted rookie are still needed;
4. Pass rusher: There are still a couple of accomplished, albeit aging, sack masters available (John Abraham, Dwight Freeney, Osi Umenyiora), but the Ravens need to develop a young pass rusher, so the draft is probably the best avenue here;
5. Backup quarterback: You can't just assume Flacco will stay healthy for 16 games. Keith Wenning didn't show a ton to suggest he'd be ready to step into a more prominent role. Then again, the available free agent backups, a list that includes Tarvaris Jackson, Michael Vick, Matt Schaub and Jason Campbell, don't inspire a ton of confidence either.
** Of all their needs, tight end might be the toughest for the Ravens to fill. It's an extremely week tight end draft and the free agent market at the position has little in the way of healthy options. Former Cincinnati Bengal Jermaine Gresham needs back surgery. Zach Miller, who played just three games for the Seattle Seahawks last season, is coming off ankle surgery. People have asked me about James Casey, but I've always gotten the sense that he is a little too similar to Kyle Juszczyk to be a good fit. As for Rob Housler, his blocking is a major drawback, though he does have solid receiving skills.
** Safety Jeromy Miles is the Ravens' top remaining unrestricted free agent, and he remains a candidate to return to the team. The Ravens value Miles' ability on special teams and his intelligence and they're still relatively thin at safety despite signing Kendrick Lewis.
** If you count their exclusive rights and restricted free agents, the Ravens have only 69 players on their roster. They still figure to add a couple of veteran free agents before the offseason is all said and done and of course, they could have as many as 11 draft picks. Still, there should be plenty of room to stock up on undrafted free agents, which has been a nice recipe for success for the Ravens.