At noon today, teams can “legally” start calling the representatives of free agents and begin negotiating contracts that can’t be fully completed until after 4 p.m. Thursday. You got all that?
All you really need to understand is that by this afternoon, several of the top free agents will likely know where they’re playing in 2017 and beyond. That things have gotten this far and the Ravens haven’t be able to re-sign any of their top free agents obviously foreshadows those players' departures.
It doesn’t guarantee it by any means. The Ravens re-signed offensive offensive tackle Eugene Monroe a couple years back after he hit the market. Traditionally, though, players hit the market in search for more money elsewhere.
The 'Big Three'
Let’s take a quick look at the Ravens “Big Three” free agents...
NT Brandon Williams: Sometimes you hear the Ravens vow that they want a player back, only to find out that they made only a cursory attempt at re-signing the player. That’s not the case with Williams. They understand what a big loss he’d be if he leaves. However, they’re not in a position to play “Name your price.”
Williams is a stud -- one of the best in the league at his position. I’m not going to diminish his role, but when you’re relatively tight against the salary cap, it’s tough to commit $10 million or more per year to a run stuffer in a passing league. Williams played just 60 percent of the team’s defensive snaps last season.
RT Rick Wagner: As of Sunday, I heard that the two sides had made no recent progress, and barring a significant development, Wagner was headed to free agency. With the number of teams looking for quality tackles and the expectation that Wagner gets top right tackle money, the Ravens may need to turn to Plan B at that position.
FB Kyle Juszczyk: The two sides were significantly apart as of the weekend. Top fullback money is a little north of $2 million per year. However, Juszczyk’s agent will surely ask for far more than that given Juszczyk’s many roles. We’ll know soon if the Ravens view Juszczyk as a luxury more than a necessity.
Torrey Smith as sale-priced version of Wallace
The point that many seem to be missing about the Ravens’ potential interest in recently released Torrey Smith: Nobody is saying that Smith is a better receiver than Mike Wallace. The only way declining Wallace’s 2017 option and signing Smith would make sense is if the Ravens would save a good bit of money in the exchange that they can use toward plugging another hole.
Wallace has an $8 million cap hit this year and declining his option would open up nearly $6 million of cap space. If that space was enough to add Smith -- who could help replace Wallace’s speed -- and another starter, then you can see why the Ravens might make the move.
Owner Steve Bisciotti still defends trading Anquan Boldin for a late-round draft pick following the Super Bowl in 2013, because the money saved on Boldin allowed the Ravens to sign Elvis Dumervil and Daryl Smith.
A few more thoughts on Smith/Ravens...
1. Having Smith and Wallace on the same roster, not to mention Breshad Perriman and Chris Moore, would be a poor use of resources with too much money and assets tied up to deep threats. The Ravens have struggled to get one deep threat involved, never mind three or four.
2. The Philadelphia Eagles make a ton of sense for Smith. They badly need a deep threat, and tried to acquire him last year. Two members of their front office – Joe Douglas and Andy Weidl – were former Ravens scouts who played a role in Baltimore’s decision to draft Smith.
3. I have no idea whether Smith would give the Ravens a hometown discount. However, after the quarterback issues he experienced with the San Francisco 49ers, you can imagine the thought of reuniting with Joe Flacco has some appeal. Smith and Flacco have a very good relationship.
Ranking the needs
Here’s my final update on the Ravens’ top five biggest needs heading into free agency:
1. Cornerback: I could see the Ravens adding as many as three corners this offseason -- one in free agency and two in the draft. Depth at the position is long overdue.
2. Pass rusher: A free agent such as Jabaal Sheard or Nick Perry would help, but it’s imperative that the Ravens pluck a promising pass rusher out of the draft. There should be enough edge rushers to choose from in a very deep pass-rushing class.
3. Wide receiver: The Ravens suddenly have a few options here with Smith and Brandon Marshall hitting the open market. I haven’t been able to confirm they’re a prime candidate to land Terrelle Pryor, like one report indicated. What’s clear is they’re in the veteran receiver market.
4. Right tackle: Assuming Wagner leaves, the Ravens need to solidify this spot, and the draft class won’t offer much help. The Ravens believe that developmental tackles De’Ondre Wesley and Stephane Nembot have potential, but it’s a bit of a jump to suggest one could step in and start Week 1.
5. Inside linebacker: Last year’s second-round pick, Kamalei Correa, should be given every opportunity to win the job. However, the Ravens need to have a good backup plan, given Correa’s struggles last season.
Honorable mention: center, safety, running back.
Don't overlook special teams
With the number of holes the Ravens currently have, nobody is going to sweat too much over special teams, but the Ravens have already lost Zachary Orr and they could lose other core special teams players Juszczyk, Anthony Levine Sr. and Kamar Aiken in free agency. Quality special teams play has been one of the few Ravens’ constants in recent years and it shouldn’t be overlooked this offseason.
Five potential prospects for Ravens
It’s a shame that the NFL moved the scouting combine back a week and it now abuts right into free agency, which is what people are talking about now. I’m sure the conversation will shift back to the draft by the end of March. But before I forget, here’s five combine players that really made an impression on me last week and I think would be nice fits for the Ravens:
1. Charles Harris, DE/OLB, Missouri
2. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
3. Takkarist McKinley, OLB/DE, UCLA
4. Curtis Samuel, RB/WR, Ohio State
5. Sidney Jones, CB, Washington