Ravens news, notes and opinions on free agents, prospects and blitz pickup

The Ravens have made offers to several of their top free agents, a group that includes right tackle Rick Wagner, nose tackle Brandon Williams and fullback Kyle Juszczyk, in the hopes of keeping them off the open market. Nothing appears imminent on those fronts, but the Ravens will surely take another crack at trying to re-sign them at the NFL Scouting Combine this month.

The event is a nice showcase for draft prospects, but with the entire football world descending on Indianapolis for a week, it's a good backdrop for negotiations between teams and agents.


In what's essentially become a Combine tradition, the Ravens are expected to meet with Joe Linta, who represents free agents Juszczyk and guard Vladimir Ducasse, and who you surely remember as the agent for quarterback Joe Flacco.

Meetings with the agents for Wagner and Williams should be in play as well. While it may be overstating things a bit to describe negotiations two weeks before free agency starts as a front office version of a Hail Mary, it is extremely difficult to get desired free agents to eschew the open market at this stage of the game. The Ravens will try and get Williams, Wagner and Juszczyk to do just that.


Juszczyk most likely: If I had to bet who the Ravens had the best chance to re-sign before March 9, it would be Juszczyk. Linta has done plenty of deals with the Ravens and as versatile as Juszczyk is, the market obviously won't be as robust for him as it will be for the likes of Wagner and Williams.

The league's highest-paid fullback in terms of average money per year, Cincinnati's Ryan Hewitt makes $2.5 million. Only two other fullbacks – Kansas City's Anthony Sherman and Oakland's Jamize Olawale – make more than $2 million a year.

Linta will obviously pitch Juszczyk as much more than a fullback, given his role in the passing game and on special teams. Still, there will only be so much interest, given many teams don't use fullbacks.

One team's trash is another's treasure: Each player that gets cut brings the inevitable question from Ravens fans: "Should the Ravens be interested in so-and-so?" It makes sense, given the Ravens' fondness for signing released players that won't cost them in the compensatory pick formula.

To this point, I haven't seen an obvious fit among the players let go.

If he's healthy, former Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields could be a decent flyer, but that's a big "if," due to his concussion issues. Former New York Giant star Victor Cruz seems to fit the criteria of a "complementary" receiver, which is what the Ravens say they are seeking. However, he's clearly not the same receiver that has he was a couple of years ago, before injuries starting to take a toll. I think the Ravens would shoot a little higher.

Cuts coming?: Last year, the Ravens made their two primary salary-cup cuts, Daryl Smith and Chris Canty, on March 3. In 2015, they cut Jacoby Jones on Feb. 25 and Canty on Feb. 27. It was also Feb. 27, 2014 when they moved on from Vonta Leach and Jameel McClain. With the Combine next week and free agency starting the week after, this week would be a logical one for the Ravens to create a little more salary cap flexibility.

Expensive backups: Per Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated's Monday Morning Quarterback, the Jacksonville Jaguars re-signed backup quarterback Chad Henne last week to a one-year, $3.5 million deal. If that's the going rate for a veteran backup signal caller, I do not like the Ravens' chances of re-signing pending free agent Ryan Mallett.


Foster could fall: You wonder if Alabama middle linebacker Reuben Foster having shoulder surgery, which will prevent him from taking part in the Combine and could reportedly keep sidelined up until training camp, could lead to him dropping in the first round a little bit. Most mock drafts have him going within the first dozen picks, and that will probably hold.

Foster put together quite a body work at Alabama, and I'm not sure how much he needed to prove during the lead-in to the draft. However, there is always some trepidation with players dealing with injuries heading into the draft.

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The Bills ignored Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson's shoulder issues last year and picked him 19th overall. He missed his entire rookie season.

Foster already had surgery and is on the mend, so it's not the same situation. If he is available at 16, though, things could get quite interesting for the Ravens. The Ravens may have bigger needs than a linebacker to replace Zachary Orr, but general manager Ozzie Newsome always looks for ways to improve his team in the middle of the field.

Pick it up: I wanted to pass along an interesting quote from veteran Los Angeles Rams running back coach Skip Peete, courtesy of ESPN's Alden Gonzalez.

Asked by Gonzalez what Rams running back Todd Gurley most needs to correct, Peete said, "This is going to blow your mind. It has nothing to do with the running game. I think the most important thing in this league, as far as a running back is concerned, is his ability to pass protect, whether it's first or second down."


For all the talk about the Ravens needing a big-play running back, they also need their top two current backs – Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon – to improve their blitz pickup and pass protection. It's critical in the current NFL.

The Atlanta Falcons probably win the Super Bowl if Devonta Freeman doesn't whiff on picking up a blitzing Dont'a Hightower on the play that resulted in a strip sack of Matt Ryan. Blitz pickup was problematic for both West and Dixon in 2016, forcing the coaching staff to use Juszczyk as the lone back on third downs.

Nothing against Juszczyk, but the Ravens need their top playmakers on the field at all times, and West and Dixon need to prove they can be trusted to pick up blitzes. Until they do, it's going to be tough for either of them to be on the field on third downs.