I can't imagine that Ravens officials were too thrilled when they learned Thursday morning that inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who was cut last week by the Cleveland Browns, was given a four-year, $22 million deal by the Indianapolis Colts that included $11 million in guaranteed money. As I wrote earlier in the week, Jackson (Maryland) was going to be an interesting gauge for the market for Ravens middle linebacker Daryl Smith. It's not an exact comparison, because Jackson is about a year younger and a different player in a lot of ways. But if Jackson's deal is any indication, Smith still should do pretty well if he hits the open market. The Ravens have about four days to make sure he doesn't.
When former Ravens starting weak-side linebacker Jameel McClain meets with Minnesota Vikings officials today, it will mark his third visit in a little over a week since the Ravens cut him. That shouldn't be a surprise. McClain is a solid player, and former Ravens defensive players traditionally aren't without teams for long. Complementary guys such as safeties Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski wound up getting decent deals after leaving the Ravens. No reason that McClain, who also has visited the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills, shouldn't get the same. Either way, it seems he has more than enough interest out there to prevent him from returning to the Ravens, who remain interested in bringing him back at a reduced rate.
The Ravens aren't going to tip their hand as to their free-agent plans, but you really have to wonder whether their improved salary cap position will change the way general maanger Ozzie Newsome and Co. go about things when the market opens at 4 p.m. Tuesday. In the recent past, the Ravens have been content to sit back, be patient, wait for prices to come down and then target a couple of needs. But the Ravens haven't had $25 million of salary cap space to work with in those years, either. With that kind of flexibility, plus a couple of defined needs — offensive tackle and wide receiver, to name two — I could see the Ravens being more aggressive than normal. They may have to be, with the number of teams that have money to spend.
To me, a lot will hinge on what the Ravens do at left tackle. With each passing day, it appears less likely that free agent Eugene Monroe returns. If that's the case, do the Ravens bid on another high-priced left tackle, like the Kansas City Chiefs' Branden Albert (Glen Burnie) or the Oakland Raiders' Jared Veldheer? Or do they spend a bit less on the position and target someone like the Cincinnati Bengals' Anthony Collins? If they don't wind up paying top dollar for a left tackle, that could free them up to go after a big-ticket item at another position, such as free safety or wide receiver. But they have no bigger need right now than left tackle, and the good ones probably will go off the board immediately in free agency.
I think running back Pierre Thomas, who is being shopped by the New Orleans Saints according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, would be an interesting addition to the Ravens. He's not the big, short-yardage back the Ravens have talked about adding, but the 29-year-old runs extremely hard, and he'd also dramatically improve the Ravens' screen game, which was nonexistent last year. He had 77 catches alone last year to go along with 549 rushing yards and five total touchdowns. The Saints apparently are motivated to deal him because they have a surplus of running backs and they'd like to get out from his $2.9 million salary cap hit. The Ravens aren't really in a position to trade draft picks, so perhaps there's no fit. But if the Saints somehow dump Thomas, I'd be surprised if the Ravens didn't have some interest.
The Ravens certainly have prioritized re-signing Smith and Monroe, but they haven't forgotten about wide receiver/kick returner Jacoby Jones. They've had several discussions with his representatives. I don't know the team's offer to Jones, but I do think it will be interesting to see what kind of market the speedster has if he hits free agency. He's certainly not the only accomplished return man available, as the Chicago Bears already have announced that they won't be bringing back Devin Hester and the Denver Broncos won't tender a contract to Trindon Holliday, according to Pro Football Talk. If he doesn't get the type of offers he's seeking, Jones may conclude that staying with the Ravens is his best option.