In agreeing in principle yesterday to a four-year deal with safety Eric Weddle, the Ravens not only signed one of the top remaining free agents, but they fulfilled one of their biggest offseason priorities.
Weddle is a smart, steady and play-making safety, the type of impact player on the back end of their defense that the Ravens have lacked since Ed Reed departed. His presence should help the Ravens create more turnovers and limit the opposition's big plays. There's no doubt that coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees are going to love having Weddle back there as another leader on the defense.
But the move generates some questions as well. Below are several:
Will Weddle stop the team's revolving door at safety?
The Ravens certainly hope so. That's why they will pay Weddle $13 million in guaranteed money. Since Ed Reed moved on following the Super Bowl season in 2012, the Ravens have signed Darian Stewart, Will Hill and Kendrick Lewis. They drafted Matt Elam in the first round in 2013 and Terrence Brooks in the third round the following year. They started Lardarius Webb's transition from cornerback to safety late last season. That's far too much money and resources spent on one position to get the returns the team has gotten. Weddle, though, is a proven commodity. He's been consistent and durable, and checks a lot of boxes for a Ravens defense that needs a jolt.
What does Weddle's presence mean for the rest of the safeties?
Well, it would appear that at least one or two of them probably must go. The Ravens could use the extra salary cap savings and while Harbaugh loves competition at each spot, nine safeties are several too many. Nick Perry and Jermaine Whitehead obviously would have been long shots to make the roster whether the Ravens added Weddle or not. Anthony Levine is one of the team's top special teams players, so he earns his roster spot. But that still leaves Hill, Webb, Lewis, Elam and Brooks. If my Twitter feed is any indication, the fans feel that Webb and Lewis should be the odd men out. But Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome have maintained all offseason that they envision Webb being a starting safety next year. Cutting Webb before June 1 would also create $6 million in dead money. That would be prohibitive. As for the other potential cap savings, Lewis would create less than $950,000 of cap space, Hill would create $3 million while jettisoning Elam would save $1.3 million. Hill was probably the Ravens' best safety last year, but his cap number ($4.8 million) could put him in jeopardy.
Would Weddle and Webb be the best pairing?
From the outside looking in, no. Both are more free safety types. Webb is 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds. Weddle is 5-foot-11, and 200 pounds. They would be one of the league's smaller safety duos. The more traditional pairing would be Weddle and Hill, who is more of a traditional strong safety. Hill is 6-foot-1 and 228 pounds and loves to hit. However, Harbaugh and Pees have said over the years that they view the safeties as interchangeable, and don't necessarily label them. The Ravens have made it a priority this offseason to get more athletic in the middle of the field, and to create more turnovers. Both Webb and Weddle have good ball skills, and are known as good tacklers. We'll see what Harbaugh and Pees prioritize when they decide who starts alongside Weddle.
Do the Ravens have enough cap room to still sign wide receiver Mike Wallace?
Yes, there is plenty of room for the Ravens to not only add Wallace, but to make another modest signing if they so choose. Kevin Acee of The San Diego-Union Tribune first reported the breakdown of Weddle's contract, which includes $9 million to be paid out in 2016 (a $7 million signing bonus, a $1 million roster bonus and a $1 million base salary). That would leave Weddle's salary cap charge this year at just south of $4 million. That takes up about a third of the Ravens' remaining space and leaves them with around $8 million of room. All indications are that they are interested in Wallace, who was due to arrive in Baltimore last night and spend part of today at the team facility, on only a modest deal. Either way, they have some financial flexibility to get a deal done. And if they dump one of their holdover safeties, that would give them a little extra leeway as well.
What is next?
Obviously, the focus is on Wallace. But beyond him, the Ravens' top three needs still haven't been addressed. The Ravens need to figure out their left tackle situation, and add a pass rusher and cornerback. Another inside linebacker would help, too. There's been no indication that the Ravens are in on Russell Okung, Donald Penn and Kelvin Beachum, the three top tackles available. That may mean that they'll either stick with Eugene Monroe or target Notre Dame's Ronnie Stanley or another highly touted tackle in the draft. As for pass rusher and cornerback, the free agent market has been thoroughly picked apart at those two positions. The Ravens might have to address those needs in the draft.