In a span of a couple of hours yesterday, the Ravens ended nearly a week of free agent silence, signing four players, who filled several holes and added much-needed depth. Jameel McClain, their starting inside linebacker the past two seasons, was the headliner, but the Ravens also signed linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and defensive backs Corey Graham and Sean Considine. All three of those players have been solid on special teams throughout the course of their careers.
After entering the day with about $5 million to spend, the Ravens are now right up against the cap although there are certainly ways to get some more financial flexibility. The Ravens could restructure some deals, which they traditionally don't like to do. They could release a couple of veterans although there are no obvious candidates. Or they could intensify their efforts to sign quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Ray Rice and cornerback Lardarius Webb to long-term contract extensions, which could significantly lower their 2012 cap hits.
Head coach John Harbaugh certainly didn't rule out the Ravens making other moves ahead of late April's draft.
"Further moves are possible," said Harbaugh. "We would like to fill as many spaces as we can between now and the draft. You can only do that when the move presents itself. In other words, when there is a player available that can make your team better and the economics work out that you can actually get him, then you try to make a move. There are some areas, still, that we would like to continue to shore up before the draft, but I don't think we'll say, 'Hey, we've got to do this, we've got to do that.' You can't make a move unless the player is available and you can actually sign the guy."
Here are a look at several areas of need that remain for the Ravens:
Bolster the offensive line: It appears that 4/5 of the Ravens' starting offensive line is set with Matt Birk at center, Marshal Yanda at right guard, Michael Oher at right tackle and Bryant McKinnie at left tackle. That leaves the left guard spot, vacated by Ben Grubbs. Harbaugh said that as of now, second-year lineman Jah Reid, who is naturally a tackle, is the starting left guard. I don't doubt Reid will get an opportunity to earn the job, but the Ravens will still need a veteran guard as an insurance policy. They also will need to upgrade their depth across the line. The other linemen on the roster are guard Howard Barbieri, tackle Ramon Harewood and centers Cecil Newton and Justin Boren. There's not much NFL experience in that group. I still think the there's a good chance that the Ravens use their first-round pick on a tackle or on Wisconsin center Peter Konz because they don't have long-term answers at either position. But in the short term, they still need to add at least two NFL-ready offensive linemen to their roster.
Find another pass rusher: The Ravens tried to do this by signing free agent Mark Anderson, but he ultimately was offered a lot more money to get after the quarterback in Buffalo opposite Mario Williams. Where do the Ravens turn now? That's not exactly clear. The free agent market – or what remains of it – isn't exactly overflowing with feared pass rushers. There are a couple of marquee rushers in the draft, but it would be surprising if one of them falls to pick 29. At this point, the Ravens' best bet might just be making sure that Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee, who showed the ability to get to the quarterback at times last season, are on the field more. And that shouldn't be so hard with both Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding having departed in free agency.
Add another down-field threat: The Ravens were never going to be in play for some of the top free agent wide receivers because they didn't have enough cap room. So they knew all along that their best chance at upgrading their wide receiving core would come in April's draft. Ideally, they'd like to get quicker on the outside opposite Torrey Smith, and move Anquan Boldin, in certain situations, into the slot. If a guy like Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill is available when the Ravens pick at 29, he could be very hard for them to pass up. Even if it's not in the first round, it would be surprising if the Ravens didn't take a wide receiver at some point relatively early in the draft. They still have high hopes for LaQuan Williams and Tandon Doss, but they want to add one more guy. And with the free agent wide receiver market down to either career underachievers or questionable character guys like Plaxico Burress and Braylon Edwards, the draft is pretty much the only place they can do it.
Get a return man
: There were a couple of choices for this fourth and last item. I pondered the need for another running back behind Rice, but the team seems to really like
and with how ball carriers are struggling to find jobs this offseason, the Ravens should be able to add a veteran running back on the cheap in a couple of weeks. I contemplated including finding competition for kicker
but that’s another thing that they could hold off on until after the draft or during training camp. I also considered the need for another run stuffer, but I think the Ravens feel good about McPhee and
. So I focused instead on the need to address their return game, which they got very little out of last season. They obviously think it’s a need, bringing in the explosive
Ted Ginn Jr.
for a visit before he re-signed with the San Francisco 49ers. With
expected to begin the season on the physically unable to perform list and the team preferring to not risk injury to Webb by putting him back on returns, there is no obvious solution on the Ravens’ roster. After addressing the coverage units in a big way with yesterday’s signings, it’s probably time for the Ravens to find a solid return man who will not only protect the ball, but has the ability to break one from time-to-time.