Mike Preston: Despite moves this week, the Ravens still have numerous holes to fill

The Ravens are still an average football team.

Despite going through the opening salvo of free agency and accomplishing their No. 1 priority of re-signing nose tackle Brandon Williams and acquiring one of the better safeties on the market in Tony Jefferson, the Ravens still have a lot of holes to fill.

They made Williams the highest-paid defensive tackle in the NFL and Jefferson the sixth-highest-paid safety, but they still need a top pass rusher, shut-down cornerback, right offensive tackle and fullback.

And if this team is to improve significantly from a year ago when it finished 8-8, Joe Flacco has to play better than he did in 2016, when he wasn't even one of the top 15 quarterbacks in the league.

Time will tell. It's way too early to predict doom or success for the Ravens because there are still the draft, another period of free agency and several months to make any trades.

Did the Ravens overpay Williams, who reportedly agreed to a five-year, $54 million contract?


Yes, they did. But that's the nature of the business when a player provides something that few others can, much like when the Ravens overpaid Flacco, the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player after the 2012 season. Williams is one of the best run stoppers in the league and at 28 is in the peak of his playing career.

If the Ravens had one consistent strength last season, it was being able to stop the run, and now they have the cornerstone in place again. They have a team leader in Williams on one side and an up-and-coming player, Michael Pierce, at the other tackle.


According to some observers of Arizona last season, Jefferson was the best defensive player on the Cardinals. He finished with a team high 92 tackles and like Williams is a leader and in the prime of his career at age 25.


One thing really impressive about Jefferson is that he was an undrafted rookie free agent out of Oklahoma taken by the Cardinals in 2013 and has started 31 of 63 career games.

He is a good open-field tackler but more of a "box" safety who is good near the line of scrimmage. The Ravens already have one in Eric Weddle, but what they needed was a safety who had range and could play a deep center field the way Ed Reed did.

Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees has said the safety roles are interchangeable, but that didn't work last year when the top quarterbacks started going deep against the Ravens and throwing over the top of Weddle and Lardarius Webb, whom the Ravens released Friday.

The Ravens have already checked off a few of their free agent priorities, but there's much left to do.

The Ravens also agreed to a deal with running back Danny Woodhead this week, but there is no cause for excitement. The Ravens had talked about acquiring a speedster or change-of-pace back, and Woodhead isn't the answer.

He'd better not be.

The ninth-year running back was eventually put on injured reserve after he tore an ACL in the second game of the season with the San Diego Chargers last year. In theory, he just seems to be a replacement for fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who recently signed with the San Francisco 49ers.

This isn't exactly what this offense needed, another check-down receiver.

Ravens second-year running back Kenneth Dixon has been suspended for the first four games of the 2017 season for violating the league's policy on PEDs.

The Ravens made a smart move by picking up the option year on receiver Mike Wallace's contract. He did have over 1,000 yards last season, and with fellow receiver Steve Smith Sr. retiring, Wallace's relationship with Flacco probably will improve. Plus, the Ravens really didn't need receiver Torrey Smith, who was released by the San Francisco 49ers and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, back on the roster. They already have a younger version of Smith in Breshad Perriman, about to enter his third season.

The announcement by the league Thursday that running back Kenneth Dixon will be suspended for the first four games in violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs will hurt.

Dixon, a rookie last season, ran hard and was a part-time starter, sharing playing time with Terrance West. His development was slowed last season because of early-season injuries and now he'll have a similar problem again this year. But overall, the Ravens can live with that situation.

And they'll be all right without right offensive tackle Rick Wagner, who signed with the Detroit Lions, and Juszczyk going to the West Coast.

The Ravens have released safety Lardarius Webb, an expected move that will create $5.5 million of salary cap space.

To put it in perspective, the Ravens just remained status quo during the first big week of free agency.

Of course, that's not good enough, especially for a team that hasn't been to the playoffs three of the past four years. But there is still a lot of time left to tinker with the roster.

And the Ravens have a lot of tinkering to do.



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