Baltimore Ravens

Ravens have four major tasks to accomplish this week at the combine

INDIANAPOLIS — Ravens officials have had several weeks to prepare for the crux of the offseason, the time when key decisions have to be made, the annual free agency spending spree commences and the pre-draft hype goes into overdrive.

Following an 8-8 season and their third non-playoff campaign in the past four years, team executives, coaches and scouts went back to work quickly. By now, they've planned for potential roster cuts, made contract offers to several of their own free agents, pondered outside additions and started homing in on preparations for April's draft.


Team officials have descended on Indianapolis this week for the league's annual scouting combine, a convergence of the NFL's present and future. Over 300 draft-eligible players will spend the next week working out for evaluators and being interviewed by teams and reporters.

With free agency beginning next week, agents will continue to gauge the market on their clients while teams make last-ditched attempts to keep their top free agents off the open market.


Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh, along with their respective staffs, have much work to do to upgrade a roster that is aging and expensive in some spots, and not nearly deep enough in others. That process will accelerate this week as the Ravens tackle the following tasks...

Get an extensive look at the 2017 draft class

Newsome and his top lieutenant, Eric DeCosta, have long called the draft the "lifeblood" of the organization. This year's draft comes at a critical time for a team with myriad needs. The good news for the Ravens is those needs match up well with the perceived strengths of the draft class.

"It's one of the best defensive drafts I've seen," NFL Network's lead draft analyst Mike Mayock said on a conference call Monday. "You can get a corner in the second and third rounds. You could get an edge [rusher] in the second and third rounds. The defensive depth at edge and corner is outstanding."

The Ravens' needs are well documented. They're looking to add difference makers to their defensive backfield, improve their pass rush and front seven, fortify their offensive line and inject some playmakers to an offense that has fallen on hard times.

Armed with the 16th overall pick and six other selections in April's draft, the Ravens will get a good look this week at top running backs Leonard Fournette (LSU) and Dalvin Cook (Florida State), a deep receiving class headed by Corey Davis (Western Michigan) and Mike Williams (Clemson), pass-rush prospects Derek Barnett (Tennessee), Taco Charlton (Michigan) and Tim Williams (Alabama) and a loaded defensive back group that includes Malik Hooker (Ohio State), Sidney Jones (Washington), Teez Tabor (Florida) and Marlon Humphrey (Alabama).

The various on-field workouts and physical testing this week will factor prominently into player evaluations, but the Ravens also put a lot of weight on individual meetings and interviews they have with prospects away from Lucas Oil Stadium.

Try to keep their own

Ravens senior vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty has already exchanged contract proposals with the representatives for pending free agent fullback Kyle Juszczyk, right tackle Rick Wagner, nose tackle Brandon Williams and reserve safety/core special teamer Anthony Levine Sr.

With those players — along with contributors Kamar Aiken and Lawrence Guy — scheduled to hit the open market on March 9, the Ravens are running out of time to get deals done. They can still re-sign their own free agents after 4 p.m. on March 9, but that task becomes more difficult with so many teams having so much more money to spend than the Ravens.


Moriarty is expected to meet with the agents of Juszczyk, Wagner and Williams this week. It will surely take huge offers to prevent Wagner and Williams, arguably the top free agents at their respective positions, from testing their worth on the open market. However, the Ravens have prioritized both.

Get a better read on the free agent market

Technically, teams aren't allowed to contact the representatives of pending free agents until March 7 during the two-day negotiation window before the market officially opens. However, it's no secret that a flurry of meetings between teams and agents will take place in downtown Indianapolis restaurants and hotel suites this week.

The practice gives agents a better idea of the market for their clients, and who might be suitors. The Ravens historically are relatively quiet in free agency, choosing to sign and develop their own while making a few forays into the market to fill major needs.

With the salary cap again going up, and at least 20 teams projected to have more than $25 million of cap space, the Ravens won't have the luxury of being passive. They might not have the money to land some of the top-ticket items, such as Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore and New England Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower, but there's no reason why they can't fill a few needs with solid players.

Wide receiver Pierre Garcon, center Nick Mangold, pass rusher Jabaal Sheard, cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Tony Jefferson are all free agents who would be nice fits. The Ravens will have a better idea of the market for those players — and whether they fit in it —by week's end.

Make final decisions on roster cuts

The Ravens have approximately $15 million of salary cap space, which is among the least in the league. That number will go down significantly when they have to tender restricted and exclusive rights free agents. The Ravens, though, know there are plenty of moves they can make to create more financial flexibility.


Tight end Dennis Pitta ($7.7 million cap number) and cornerback Lardarius Webb ($7.5 million) could be asked to take pay cuts. Tight end Benjamin Watson ($4 million), center Jeremy Zuttah ($4.6 million), strong-side linebacker Elvis Dumervil ($8.4 million) and defensive backs Kyle Arrington ($2.8 million), Shareece Wright ($5.8 million) and Kendrick Lewis ($2.3 million) are all potential cap casualties and/or play positions in which the Ravens are trying to upgrade.

The Ravens also could decide to decline wide receiver Mike Wallace's 2017 contract option, a move that would create nearly $6 million in salary cap space.

The Ravens traditionally make their offseason roster cuts in late February/early March, giving their former players enough time to prepare for free agency. If they stick to that timeline, some moves might occur this weekend during the scouting combine.