The end last week of the NFL's annual meetings signified the start of the countdown for the draft, which is now a little more than four weeks away. The first day of the three-day event will be held on April 30 in Chicago.
“It really ramps up now ... until we get to the draft,” Ravens team president Dick Cass said last week. “It’s all hands on deck. Everyone on the coaching staff, everyone in the scouting department will start working on the draft full time. The scouting department has already been doing that, looking at a lot of tape. Now, they really go in and start filling out the reports.
"We have a week of meetings in April which is, I think, the best week of preparation for the draft. The coaches and the scouts are in the draft room together, debating about particular players. It’s just a very good discussion.”
That’s not to say the Ravens are done with free agency. Head coach John Harbaugh said last week the organization is still very much engaged in the open market and said the Ravens wanted to be “proactive.”
There are not, however, many desirable players left to choose from. Here is a look at arguably the Ravens' top five needs, their top free-agent options at each and an opinion on which direction they might go.
Outlook: The Ravens have been more in kick-the-tires mode for the top free agent wide receivers rather than putting on a full-court press to sign one, but that could change in a hurry. They still want to add a veteran receiver and draft one, as well. Crabtree reportedly is in no rush to sign, while Jennings is planning a couple of free-agent visits, which could eventually include Baltimore. Of the two, Jennings -- who was released by the Minnesota Vikings -- wouldn’t cost the Ravens a compensatory selection and he might come a little cheaper. All of the remaining options have warts, but both Crabtree and Jennings are proven targets who could help the Ravens.
Skinny: With the loss of Owen Daniels to the Denver Broncos and the uncertainty about whether Dennis Pitta (hip) will play again, the Ravens need another tight end to pair with second-year pro Crockett Gillmore. It’s not a very good draft for tight ends, putting a little pressure on the Ravens to get something done at this position in free agency. Gresham (back) and Miller (ankle) are recovering from surgeries. It’s possible the Ravens could get a player like Miller to sign a prove-you’re-healthy deal that worked so well for the Ravens last offseason with Daniels. Miller was released by the Seattle Seahawks and thus wouldn’t cost the Ravens a compensatory selection.
Skinny: It’s not that the Ravens haven’t tried to add to their cornerback depth, which led to their undoing last year. They even expressed interest in the top available player at the position, Darrelle Revis, if you believe comments made by the New York Jets cornerback last week. The Ravens were also outbid for Cary Williams, Perrish Cox and Tramon Williams. You look at the list of available corners, and it’s hard to make a case that any of them are significant upgrades over the team’s current No. 3 and No. 4 cornerbacks: Asa Jackson and Rashaan Melvin. The Ravens’ best course of action is probably to sign a veteran and then select a cornerback early in the draft.
Skinny: Harbaugh was firm last week in saying the Ravens needed more depth at running back, and he didn’t seem to be referring to drafting another ball carrier. The Ravens figure to do that anyway, but the head coach would like to have another veteran option to replace the released Bernard Pierce. There are some accomplished backs available, and all of them would probably come pretty cheap, given the poor market for veteran ball carriers. Ridley has the most upside, but he’s less than six months removed from suffering a significant knee injury. Thomas is probably the best fit, given new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman’s desire to get backs involved in the passing game.
Skinny: At some point before the summer, the Ravens will add a veteran quarterback. They like Keith Wenning, but the sixth-round pick will need to win the backup quarterback job. He didn’t look ready for such an assignment last year. However, a full season on the practice squad should have done Wenning some good. Of the free-agent options, Campbell, who has the strong arm the West Coast offense demands, might be the best fit. However, Vick has an extensive history with new Ravens quarterback coach Marty Mornhinweg, and that could come into play. The Ravens don’t plan to pay much for a backup, given Joe Flacco’s durability. But there aren’t many teams still in the market for one, so it shouldn’t be too tough to fill that spot.