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The Ravens signed former New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson this offseason.
The Ravens signed former New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson this offseason. (Sean Gardner / Getty Images)

By the time free agency began on March 9, the Ravens' top decision makers had come to grips with the fact that the organization wasn't going to be able to re-sign offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele. But the silver lining was that the team would likely get a third-round compensatory pick in return the following year.

However, it became clear just hours into free agency that banking on a third-round pick was probably wishful thinking, too. The escalation of free agent deals convinced the Ravens that they were probably looking at a fourth-round pick, at best, in exchange for Osemele, who signed a five-year, $58.5 million pact with the Oakland Raiders.

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"We kind of went into it thinking that K.O. would be a third-round draft pick. It looked very quickly like it might be a fourth," Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said from the league meetings on Tuesday. "Based on the charts and everything, and based on our experience, there's a big difference between the 98th pick and 130. There are lots of fours, there are only a few threes. It can be like a 38-pick difference."

Bisciotti acknowledged that the realization contributed to the Ravens altering their free-agent philosophy somewhat, and being a little more aggressive with true unrestricted free agents.

In recent history, the Ravens had mostly avoided signing true unrestricted free agents. They added only five of them in the previous six years. The philosophy has helped the organization accumulate more compensatory picks than any other NFL team.

True unrestricted free agents count against a team in the compensatory formula; free agents who are released or not tendered a contract by their previous teams do not. The Ravens have consistently made their biggest free-agent moves within the latter category, adding wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil under that scenario.

However, this year brought the signings of true unrestricted free agents Benjamin Watson and Eric Weddle.

"We did what we have to do. If that's the case, then there's other ways to accumulate draft picks," Bisciotti said.

Bisciotti said that he spoke to general manager Ozzie Newsome on the first day of free agency and gave him the green light to make additions without worrying about the compensatory situation.

"We were not going to take a chance on losing K.O.'s pick, and then within the first day of free agency, we were reassessing that," Bisciotti said. "I just kind of said to Ozzie, 'Forget my past argument to the point where you have to. If you have to concede that pick to fill your roster, then I understand.'"

Currently, the Ravens aren't in line to get any mid-round compensatory picks. They've lost three true unrestricted free-agents – Osemele, quarterback Matt Schaub and wide receiver Chris Givens – while signing two (Watson, Weddle). Givens, however, signed a 1-year deal with the Eagles for near the league minimum while Schaub signed a modest contract to return to the Falcons.

In order to get a compensatory pick, the Ravens probably need strong-side linebacker Courtney Upshaw to sign a deal elsewhere. Compensatory selections are even better assets next year, given that they can now be traded for the first time.

"We knew going into this offseason that we didn't have a lot of high-profile free agents," Bisciotti said. "We certainly weighed the prospect of, if there was going to be a year where we were going to lose the [compensatory] draft picks, that we can open it up to [signing] guys. We've signed some people like this in the past and they are typically in the category where you don't lose comp picks. When we knew that we had to improve the team, we recognized the irony of we've been asking [comp picks] to be trade-able forever and now next year is the first year, where we may not have any."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jeffzrebiecsun

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