Mike Preston: Ravens are right to show patience in free agency

The Ravens have traditionally been slow to move in free agency, and they may need to be more cautious than usual because this is one of the most critical off-seasons in team history.

Teams usually make big signings early in free agency if they feel they are a player or two from winning a Super Bowl, but the Ravens have quite a few needs at outside linebacker, inside linebacker, cornerback and left offensive tackle and had one at safety until they agreed to terms with San Diego's Eric Weddle on Monday.


They can't afford to be in a hurry, not in their tight salary cap situation. Plus, with so many needs, it wouldn't make sense to re-sign a guard like Kelechi Osemele, who agreed to a five-year $58.5 million deal with the Oakland Raiders last week.

This is probably a two-year building process for the Ravens, who made a solid move by signing former New Orleans tight end Ben Watson last week. And if they reach an agreement with former Viking receiver Mike Wallace soon, that will also be a decent addition because Wallace would give the Ravens speed on the outside, something they lacked last season.


But if the Ravens are to rebuild this team into a top contender again, they have to do it in the draft, where they have failed consistently for the past seven or eight years.

The Ravens needed a safety because the two they've drafted in the last three years, Terrence Brooks (third round, 2014 draft) and Matt Elam (first round, 2013), haven't panned out.

They need an inside linebacker because veteran Daryl Smith became too old and Arthur Brown (second round, 2013) has played poorly. They need a shut-down cornerback because Jimmy Smith, a first-round pick in 2011, hasn't played up to expectations.

The Ravens need to stop failing on second- and third-round picks like defensive tackle Terrence Cody, linebacker Sergio Kindle, tight end Ed Dickson, tackle Jah Reid and running back Bernard Pierce and start hitting on more like they did with Osemele, and defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan.

That's all part of what makes this off-season so intriguing. Owner Steve Bisciotti has to be sitting back and watching to see how general manager Ozzie Newsome and his staff bounce back from a 5-11 season in 2015, the second time the Ravens have missed postseason play in three years.

The Ravens can't afford to gamble; they have to get it right this off-season. They are limited because of salary cap restraints, but they put themselves in this situation.

In the past, the Ravens shelled out big money to impact players like Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Peter Boulware. In the current group, with the exception of quarterback Joe Flacco, most of the team's highest-paid players like cornerback Lardarius Webb, offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta have not made significant contributions.

The Ravens can't keep making these mistakes. They seem to be on solid ground again with Watson, who is the "right player, right price" at the right time.

The Ravens didn't have a proven, healthy tight end on the roster before signing Watson. Maxx Williams, heading into his second year, needs to get tougher. No one knows for sure if Crockett Gillmore will be ready for the start of the regular season because of shoulder injuries. Nick Boyle is out for the first 10 games of the 2016 season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Wallace would be a welcome addition even though he had only 39 catches for 473 yards last season. Like Watson, he needs to be a bargain, too. He isn't a No. 1 receiver, but the Ravens don't need him to be. They need a threat on the outside, a player who can make plays occasionally and stretch defenses.

Weddle will certainly improve the Ravens defense even though he is 31. He has excellent range and will be one defensive player that other teams will have to game plan around.

But there are still so many questions about the Ravens heading into the 2016 season. Not only are there concerns about the draft and free agency, but the Ravens have a number of players including Flacco, receiver Steve Smith, running back Justin Forsett, linebacker Terrell Suggs and Pitta recovering from major injuries.


That's a lot.

It's a critical off-season, a time where patience and wisdom are needed more than ever before.


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