After four months of evaluating, signing, trading and drafting players, the Ravens are no longer in a position to be buyers this offseason, general manager Eric DeCosta said.
In a conference call with season-ticket holders Wednesday, DeCosta said that the team’s “spent a lot of the money that we had this year.” Trading for defensive end Calais Campbell and designating Matthew Judon with the franchise tag, among other smaller moves, have left the Ravens with a projected $8 million remaining in salary cap space.
The team’s pending deal with free-agent guard D.J. Fluker would cut further into those savings, and the Ravens typically enter each season with enough financial flexibility to add players during the year.
But DeCosta said the Ravens’ 2020 salary cap picture “could certainly change.” Their most likely route to cap relief is through long-term deals with left tackle Ronnie Stanley or Judon, Pro Bowl players who are set to become free agents after this season. DeCosta said the front office has continued to negotiate contract extensions with both.
“Other than that, we don’t have a lot of avenues to free up significant money this year,” DeCosta said. “We haven’t been able to get a deal done at this point. We remain optimistic. ... I’m not ruling out a possibility that we could do a long-term deal, but we haven’t been able to get one done at this time.”
DeCosta said that if the Ravens had the cap space, they would likely target a pass rusher or offensive lineman. Edge rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Everson Griffen are two of the top free agents still available, but both could be out of the team’s price range.
The Ravens already had a Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram II, a downhill bruiser in Gus Edwards and a young, versatile third option in Justice Hill. Why spend a second-round pick on another running back like Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins?
Because running backs get hurt, DeCosta said.
“I think if you look at the Ravens over the last 15 years, you’d be hard-pressed to find a team, one of our teams, where the starting running back didn’t get hurt in this time at some point,” he said.
Ingram suffered a calf injury late last season and was limited in the Ravens’ playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans. Running back, wide receiver and cornerback are what DeCosta called “greyhound” positions, which he said require quality depth.
Players at those positions “break down," he said. "They get injuries. They take hits. They get soft-tissue injuries, and it’s very, very, very hard to finish the season without those guys being very healthy.”
High hopes at WR
Free-agent wide receiver Antonio Brown, the cousin of Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, remains an object of fascination among some Ravens fans. Asked about the team’s interest in the former Pittsburgh Steelers star, whom the NFL is investigating after various allegations against him, DeCosta instead talked about the receivers the Ravens already have.
“I love Willie Snead and Hollywood Brown," he said. "And we drafted Miles Boykin last year. And I think that Chris Moore is one of the best special teams wide receivers in the league. We drafted Devin Duvernay this year, James Proche. We’ve got Jaleel Scott on the team. ... We’ve also got all these tight ends.
“And so we think if you look at our team over the last two, three years, we’ve done a lot to address skill positions: targets for [quarterback] Lamar [Jackson], guys that can make plays. We feel really, really good about that. We love the mix of personalities and players and the upside and leadership that we’ve got. And I think Lamar’s got a great chemistry with those guys as well. We think our younger guys are going to continue to make a jump.”
With starting center Matt Skura recovering from a season-ending knee injury and backup Patrick Mekari coming off an impressive rookie season, DeCosta declined to name an offseason favorite to take the job.
“I think it’s up in the air,” he said.
But he added a somewhat surprising name to the mix: Bradley Bozeman. The Ravens’ starting left guard “is a guy with a lot of experience as a center,” which he played at Alabama, and “is certainly capable of competing in that spot,” DeCosta said.
The Ravens also drafted Michigan guard Ben Bredeson, whom they believe can transition to center, as Mekari did last year.
“We’re fortunate that we’ve got three [veteran] guys who can snap and compete at that spot,” he said. “We feel like we’ve got good depth there, and I think we’re in a good spot in terms of the guards and the centers and the combination of guys that could play both spots.”
>> DeCosta said one of his most spirited defenses of a draft prospect during his Ravens tenure was of running back Ray Rice. DeCosta acknowledged Wednesday that the former Rutgers star was a “polarizing” target, given his smaller frame, but that on tape, he saw “a fantastic football player, just a playmaker, a guy that just had a relentless style to his game.”
Baltimore Ravens Insider
The Ravens ultimately took Rice, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, with the No. 55 overall pick in the 2008 draft. A dozen years later, DeCosta drafted Dobbins, also at No. 55 — the highest the Ravens have taken a running back since Rice. DeCosta sees similarities between the two, and not just because Dobbins will wear No. 27.
“He’s a competitive guy, extremely good feet," DeCosta said. "He runs hard. He runs with vision. He’s got home run ability. And he’s got a style about him that I think lends itself very well to the NFL. He’s got excellent lateral quickness. He doesn’t have to slow down and gear down. He can jump-cut. He runs with a good pad level. ... We think he’s a three-down back.”
>> DeCosta said the Ravens drafted two “red star” prospects last month, players whom scouts strongly believe have distinguished on- and off-field qualities. But he wasn’t naming names.
“I can’t talk about who they are, because that’s kind of one of these traditions that we’ve got in Baltimore, and you never want to give away another guy’s red star,” he said.
>> DeCosta highlighted eight undrafted free agents the Ravens have signed whom he believes could make the team’s 53-man roster: Oregon tight end Jacob Breeland, Georgia tight end Eli Wolf, Missouri center Trystan Colon-Castillo, Iowa linebacker Kristian Welch, James Madison outside linebacker John Daka, Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley, Kennesaw State fullback Bronson Rechsteiner and Tennessee safey Nigel Warrior.
>> Wake Forest punter Dom Maggio (Boys’ Latin) signed as an undrafted free agent, the team announced Wednesday, while three more draft picks have finalized their contracts.
Texas A&M defensive lineman Justin Madubuike (third-round pick), Michigan guard Ben Bredeson (fourth round) and Southern Methodist wide receiver James Proche (sixth round) joined the Ravens one day after Texas Tech defensive lineman Broderick Washington Jr. (fifth round) became the first to sign.