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Preston: Expect Ravens to be active but guarded in second phase of free agency

The second phase of NFL free agency begins after Tuesday, and the Ravens plan to be active, even though their motto is the same.

It is still “right player, right price.”

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The mantra was started by former Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, and the philosophy will continue with new GM Eric DeCosta. DeCosta has already made some aggressive and favorable decisions during his first offseason as boss, and he wants to be just as proactive in this period.

But he won’t be reckless in trying to fill a team need at inside linebacker or finding a pass rusher or an interior offensive lineman. The Ravens will have nearly $13 million in cap space once all their draft picks are signed.

“We can be flexible. We are in pretty good shape,” DeCosta said. “We have the ability to make a move. I like our position. We’re not constrained by anything at this point. We can make the team better if the situation arises and there is value for us.

“We’re not totally shut down but we will also be responsible. We worked hard during this offseason and we don’t want to blow that up.”

The Ravens attempted to upgrade their speed on offense with the additions of receivers Marquise Brown and Myles Boykin and running back Justice Hill during the draft, and they also went after a pass rusher with the selection of Louisiana Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson.

But the Ravens could use another pass rusher, so maybe they go after an unrestricted free agent such as former Detroit Lion Ezekiel Ansah or maybe an outside linebacker like former Cleveland Brown Jamie Collins Sr. The market has been picked over from the first phase, which usually lasts about 10 days and results in a lot of overpaid players.

Wednesday begins the bargain period, and any player signed after 4 p.m. doesn’t affect the compensatory formula in which draft picks are allotted to teams that lose unrestricted free agents.

“Teams that were strapped against the cap or looking for bargains would not get involved in the first week or first 10 days,” DeCosta said. “It used to be the second phase came later in March after the first wave of big, big contracts.

“Some teams didn’t really understand the process as well as other teams, and they didn’t pay attention to the types of picks they might get back. But now, everyone is in tune to the whole comp picks formula and how you can trade them and it has raised the value of comp picks. Now everyone is focused on that May 8 date.”

Traditionally, Baltimore has not been a big splash team in the first phase of free agency, but the Ravens have been active in the second part leading up to the start of the season.

They have nabbed some street free agents such as middle linebacker Daryl Smith, safety Jim Leonhard, running back Justin Forsett and offensive tackles Willie Anderson and Bryant McKinnie.

They’ve signed players from other teams’ practice squads, such as cornerback Cary Williams and running back Alex Collins.

One of the keys, according to DeCosta, is to be ready when a player becomes available.

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“Every team is different,” he said. “We look at the entire offseason as a chance to get better even if we sign players late and up through training camp. It helps knowing the players and the teams they are coming from, so our coaches and front office staff have to work together and take things very seriously.

‘We don’t get caught up in the rumors, the speculation and various things. We grade the players, do our evaluations and wait and wait and wait. If the player gets terminated and we have the resources to sign him, and he can make the team better, then we get involved. But in every case, we need to be prepared because things can heat up quickly.”

DeCosta, though, wouldn’t say which positions or players the Ravens would be interested in. He says all things have to match up before the Ravens make a deal, but Wednesday is a good day to begin filling in the roster.

“After the draft, a lot of teams want to address certain areas or positions they did not fill,” he said. “They want to improve the quality of their roster.

“Being organized and knowing the value of a player ahead of time is part of it. We will consider everybody available and who will bring value to our team. We have strengths and weaknesses. We will look at players and see how they compare to our players. Then we have to ask ourselves, ‘Does this make sense financially? How do they fit our team? Are they a starter, and what is their value?’ If it all fits, then we do what makes sense for both parties.”

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