Because we're officially two weeks away from free agency, I'm getting asked more and more about who will and won't return among the 13 Ravens due to hit the open market March 13. A lot of this is pure speculation on my part because I simply don't know what the market holds for some of these guys and how much interest there will be. But this would be my best guess about who will stay and who will go:
Stay: Brendon Ayanbadejo, Matt Birk, Jarret Johnson, Cory Redding, Ray Rice, Kris Wilson.
Go: Ben Grubbs, Andre Gurode, Edgar Jones, Jameel McClain, Brandon McKinney, Haruki Nakamura, Tom Zbikowski.
I expect the Ravens to make pretty aggressive bids to retain Grubbs and McClain. They already have in Grubbs' case. I just think it's going to be tough for them to match an offer from some of these other teams that have more salary cap room available. The Ravens have clearly made Grubbs a priority, and there is no reason to doubt their word that they have made him a huge offer. But they have their limits, too. And if another team blows their offer to Grubbs out of the water, there is not much that they can do except wish him well and begin the search for his replacement.
In the case of Nakamura and Zbikowski, it will be more about opportunity than money. The two safeties have been solid when they have gotten chances and I'd suspect that there will be interested teams willing to offer decent contracts and more playing time. Already, I've seen or heard reports that the Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans and Cincinnati Bengals could have some interest in Nakamura.
Nothing has changed on a couple of other potential roster decisions. The Ravens met with Ray Rice's agent, Todd France, in Indianapolis. In the next week, they will put the franchise tag on Rice, buying the two sides more time to work out an extension. And the expectation remains that the Ravens will let go of wide receiver Lee Evans and cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr to open up some cap room. Foxworth, who has had significant issues trying to come back from knee surgery, is mulling retirement.
I think we can finally put to bed the idea that the Ravens will draft Vontaze Burfict. The Arizona State linebacker, who idolizes Ray Lewis and was once considered a sure first-round pick, absolutely bombed his audition at the NFL Scouting Combine. His interviews with teams – the Ravens were one of them - were widely panned. In his talk with reporters, he threw his college coaches under the bus, admitted that he punched a teammate and blamed the media for painting an inaccurate portrayal of him. Oh yeah, he also called himself the best linebacker in the draft. Then, in his on-field workout yesterday, he recorded 40-yard dash times of 4.93 and 5.10, which was slower than the times of some of the linemen. And even beyond that – because I wouldn't dispute the popular criticism that too much weight is put on the Combine – Burflict had a terrible final season at Arizona State. The Ravens are not opposed to taking a risk on a player with some character questions, but they better be sure that the guy can play. Who knows how far Burfict will drop in the draft, but I don't expect the Ravens to be the team to jump in and stop his fall.
Here's a player that I think would be a great fit for the Ravens if he's available at pick 29: Alabama inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower. Going into the combine, Hightower was considered a late first-round to early second-round pick, so obviously no guarantees that he gets to the Ravens. But his skill set, which includes an ability to stop the run and rush the passer from the outside, would be a perfect fit for the Ravens, who did meet with Hightower last week. The Ravens could use not only another linebacker, but another playmaker on defense. I think Hightower fits that bill and we all know about general manager Ozzie Newsome's fondness for Crimson Tide players.