The Ravens stayed on a familiar course in the first period of free agency even with a new general manager.
Instead of caving in to some public sentiment after the first days teams could negotiate with free agents, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta waited until the high money was invested into the so-called top unrestricted free agents and then walked away with one of the best safeties in the NFL while also improving the team’s running game.
Sure, the Ravens overspent a little on former Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas and New Orleans Saints veteran running back Mark Ingram, but that’s usually the case during the early days of free agency. The moves made by DeCosta, though, won’t put the Ravens into a financially unstable situation anytime soon.
They still have other needs such as pass rushers, a legitimate No. 1 receiver and a third-down back. But at least they finally have a defensive playmaker in Thomas, something this team hasn’t had enough of in recent years.
Go ahead, say it again. A playmaker. An impact performer.
Thomas, 29, reportedly signed a four-year contract worth $55 million, of which $32 million was guaranteed. He might be considered somewhat of a gamble because leg injuries have forced him to miss 19 games over the past three seasons. He broke his leg in the fourth game last season, forcing him out for the remainder of the season.
But current and former Seahawks teammates have said Thomas worked so hard on his rehabilitation that he probably could have returned to play late in the season. He is regarded as a fitness buff who loves to work out and there’s little doubt that he remains one of the top players in the NFL.
For the Ravens, it finally gives them a player in the secondary who is a difference maker. There is a lot of Ed Reed in the 5-foot-10, 202-pound Thomas, who has 28 interceptions during his nine-year career. Besides spending a lot of time studying film, Thomas has great range and covers the deep ball well. He thrives on physical contact. He likes to work with his secondary mates and often knows more about where they are supposed to line up than they do.
But, like Reed, fellow cornerbacks don’t always know where Thomas is going to be. He is cocky and an old-school veteran. When his team starts to lose, Thomas won’t criticize his teammates publicly, but he doesn’t hold back in team meetings, which is why some of the younger players gravitate to him slowly.
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Thomas is a good fit for the Ravens. They needed veteran leadership on the back end to replace recently departed safety Eric Weddle, and a safety that finally can play center field.
Like Thomas, Ingram, 29, is expected to be good in the locker room. He agreed to a reported three-year contract worth $15 million. The move seemed to surprise some because they figured the Ravens needed a speedster to complement second-year running back Gus Edwards. But the Ravens can still accomplish that through free agency or the draft.
A bruising, downhill running game is expected to be the major staple of this offense in 2019, so there is going to be a need for two of these types of backs to absorb the punishment. Also, the Ravens now have to depend less on backup running back Kenneth Dixon, who came into training camp last season out of shape. Also, Ingram might be the best pass blocker of any Ravens running back on the roster.
Last season the 5-9, 215-pound Ingram started six games and finished with 645 yards rushing on 138 carries. He basically served as a closer or complement to New Orleans starter Alvin Kamara, who rushed for 883 yards on 194 carries.
With Edwards and Ingram competing for playing time, the Ravens would like to find a back like Kamara who can beat linebackers out of the backfield in passing situations. That has to be high on DeCosta’s priority list as the offseason continues, as well as getting a top receiver, some pass rushers and a few offensive linemen.
But for now, the Ravens will remain kind of quiet like the rest of the league. The first few days of free agency are often filled with anxiety and overbidding for the big names. The Ravens, though, have made out well.