Baltimore Ravens beat writer Jeff Zrebiec on defensive line Brandon Williams value to the team, and the possible free agent wide receivers the Ravens could be pursuing. (Baltimore Sun video)
Even in the offseason, fans often tweet and email questions to Ravensreporter Jeff Zrebiec. Here is a sampling of some of the more popular questions asked over the past couple of weeks.
Why is nose tackle Brandon Williams a bigger free-agent priority than right tackle Rick Wagner?
The Ravens view Williams as a top nose tackle in the league and a centerpiece of their run defense. He checks all the boxes of the type of player the Ravens want to sign to a second contract. He's young and ascending, he's extremely good in his role, he's durable and he takes his standing in the locker room and in the Baltimore community very seriously. Williams also makes other people around him better, consistently absorbing double teams while keeping blockers off teammates.
That's not to say that Wagner isn't a key player. In a perfect world with no salary cap restraints, the Ravens would re-sign him, too. However, there seems to be a confidence level among team officials that they'll be able to find a serviceable and cheaper replacement for Wagner if he bolts, while it would be much harder to find a nose tackle of Williams' ilk.
Who are the top receivers potentially available in free agency?
This isn't an overly impressive list. The headliner would be Alshon Jeffery if the Chicago Bears don't put the franchise tag on him and keep him off the open market for a second straight season. Behind him is a group that includes Pierre Garcon, Terrelle Pryor, DeSean Jackson, Kenny Britt, Kenny Stills, Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright, Cordarrelle Patterson and Anquan Boldin. Garcon is probably the best fit for the Ravens, but he should garner plenty of interest around the league.
Would the Ravens be interested in Brandon Marshall if he's available?
There's a lot of speculation that the veteran wide receiver will be let go by the New York Jets. If he is, you'd have to think Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome would at least inquire.
Marshall fits the profile of so many of the veteran wide receivers that Newsome has added in the past, a group that includes Boldin, Steve Smith Sr., Derrick Mason, and he could be the possession receiver the Ravens are seeking to pair with speedsters Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman.
Like past veteran receiver acquisitions, Marshall is physical and intense, he's got a big personality and he'd probably come to Baltimore with a chip on his shoulder. The Ravens' history of letting veteran players "be themselves" would seemingly appeal to Marshall. If he was released, he also wouldn't cost the team in the compensatory pick formula, which always factors into the Ravens' decision making.
Could Ed Reed join John Harbaugh's coaching staff?
You never say never, but the Ravens appear set with Chris Hewitt coaching the defensive backs and Mike Macdonald being promoted to assist Hewitt.
Reed and coach John Harbaugh didn't always see eye-to-eye in their player-coach relationship. Both men developed a mutual respect for each other, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the head coach-assistant relationship would work at this stage of their respective careers.
I'm sure Harbaugh would love having Reed out at some training camp practices and working with the young defensive backs. However, I'm not sure a full-time coaching position for Reed is in the offing with the Ravens. And who knows it that's what the mercurial Reed even wants?
All that really matters is that the team's salary cap is in order before the start of the new league year and free agency on March 9. In other words, they still have over a month before they have to make many of the tough decisions.
Still, expect them to make some cuts a couple of weeks before the start of free agency as a courtesy to veterans who would then have time to prepare before the market is flooded with true free agents on March 9.
Last season, the Ravens cut Daryl Smith and Chris Canty on March 3. The year before, they cut Canty on Feb. 27. In 2014, they let veterans Vonta Leach and Jameel McClain go on Feb. 27. Each offseason calendar is different, but if traditional holds, we're still about three weeks away from the Ravens moving on from some veterans.
How much salary cap space will they gain through the cuts?
That obviously depends on just how aggressive Newsome and company feel they need to be to reshape the roster. At least nine Ravens veterans are being mentioned as potential salary cap casualties: Mike Wallace, Dennis Pitta, Benjamin Watson, Jeremy Zuttah, Elvis Dumervil, Lardarius Webb, Shareece Wright, Kyle Arrington, Kendrick Lewis.
If they cut them all, the Ravens would create well more than $30 million in additional salary cap space. However, that's a deceiving number because the Ravens would have to pay potential replacements, too. In reality, the Ravens likely won't cut all nine. A few will probably stay under their current deals and a few could ultimately agree to take a pay cut.
Will the Ravens have enough money to be active in free agency?
Yes. It's hard to determine just how much space they'll have before the salary cap is even set and before the inevitable roster cuts have been made. But either way, the Ravens figure to have some cap flexibility. That's the good news.
The bad news is with the cap expected to rise significantly, most teams in the NFL will have far more money to spend than the Ravens, and that will probably mean free agent contracts will go through the roof. The Ravens aren't equipped to win bidding wars against teams that have so much cap space that they don't know what to do with it.
I wouldn't expect the Ravens' free agent philosophy to change too much. They'll try to spend on re-signing a few of their own free agents. They'll try and add a few veterans to address specific areas of need. And then they'll turn their attention to building the roster through the draft.