The Ravens had a busy first week of free agency. They re-signed offensive guard-tackle James Hurst, picked up cornerback Brandon Carr’s 2018 contract option and brought in free-agent wide receivers John Brown and Michael Crabtree after an agreement with Ryan Grant fell through because he didn’t pass the Ravens’ physical. The Ravens also released running back Danny Woodhead, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and defensive back Lardarius Webb and declined the 2018 option on right tackle Austin Howard’s contract, while losing free agent center Ryan Jensen to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With some modest salary cap space — they have about $10 million of leeway — the Ravens have room to make an additional move or two.
Below are their five biggest needs and potential free-agent options to fill them:
General manager Ozzie Newsome acknowledged late last week that the team is looking to add a pass-catching tight end. Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams are solid blockers and they can work underneath, but the Ravens lack a tight end who can stretch the field and run past a defender. Having already added two wide receivers in free agency, this is the team’s No. 1 need.
Potential free-agent fits: Julius Thomas, Dolphins; Luke Wilson, Seahawks; Benjamin Watson, Ravens.
How will it play out? The Ravens aggressively pursued Ebron, the 10th overall pick in 2014 who has the speed they lack at the position, but he signed instead with the Indianapolis Colts on Monday. The Ravens’ best bet might be to make a run at Thomas or just wait for the draft. The tight end group in the draft is deep and talented.
The Ravens re-signed Hurst, but they’ve also lost Howard and Jensen, two 16-game starters last year. They believe that they still have five legitimate starters: Ronnie Stanley, Marshal Yanda, Alex Lewis, Hurst and Matt Skura. However, Skura hasn’t played center at the NFL level, so that’s a question mark, and the best position for both Lewis and Hurst, candidates to move to right tackle, is guard. That makes right tackle a potential position of need as well.
Potential free-agent fits: Howard, Ravens; Marshall Newhouse, Raiders; Mike Pouncey, Dolphins; Matt Slauson, Chargers.
How will it play out? Because they have some depth, which includes last year’s draft picks, Nico Siragusa and Jermaine Eluemunor, the Ravens don’t figure to spend any significant money in free agency on another offensive lineman. What they’ll likely do is add a cheap veteran to come in and compete for a job in training camp. They also will almost certainly address either the tackle or center position, if not both, in the draft. The Ravens have also discussed re-signing Crockett Gillmore, who is converting from tight end to the offensive line.
That the Ravens have already signed two wide receivers and the position is still on this list is telling to some of the problems the team has had here. Newsome has talked about changing the look of the wide receiver room, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the Ravens sign an additional pass catcher in free agency and add one or two in the draft.
Potential free-agent fits: Michael Campanaro, Ravens; Dontrelle Inman, Bears; Mike Wallace, Ravens; Kendall Wright, Bears.
How will it play out? Whether the Ravens sign an additional free-agent receiver will probably say a lot about the organization’s evaluation of its young receivers, a group that includes Chris Moore, Breshad Perriman, Tim White and Quincy Adeboyejo. If the Ravens feel that they can rely on two or three of those guys, they’ll likely just wait until the draft. Newsome has spoken to Wallace and Campanaro about a return, so both remain options. At some point, though, the Ravens are going to have to use some of their remaining cap space on another position.
Inside linebacker/hybrid safety
Last year’s defense will return almost intact. That group, however, struggled throughout in covering tight ends. The Ravens need a fast defender who can line up next to middle linebacker C.J. Mosley and help in coverage. Converted safety Patrick Onwuasor held his own at weak-side linebacker, and perhaps Kamalei Correa will show significant improvement in his third season. However, the Ravens will certainly look outside the organization for help as well.
Potential free-agent fits: Gerald Hodges, Saints; Derrick Johnson, Chiefs; Kelvin Sheppard, Giants.
How will it play out? Similar to the offensive line, the Ravens are far more likely to tackle this position in the draft than in free agency. Between Onwuasor, Correa, Bam Bradley, Anthony Levine Sr. and Chuck Clark, the Ravens have enough internal options that they likely won’t need to bring in an aging vet and plug him alongside Mosley. However, if there is a difference-maker at inside linebacker (Roquan Smith or Rashaan Evans?) or safety (Derwin James?) available in the draft, the Ravens will have to think long and hard about taking him.
The Ravens simply haven’t spent much in terms of assets on providing insurance behind Joe Flacco, so it’s hardly surprising they haven’t added another quarterback so far in free agency to compete with Josh Woodrum for the backup job. Most of the better backups have already signed elsewhere, though Ryan Mallett, who has played behind Flacco the previous two seasons, remains available.
Potential free-agent fits: Derek Anderson, Panthers; Mallett, Ravens; Matt Moore, Dolphins; Geno Smith, Giants.
How will it play out? There appears to be a good chance the Ravens will use one of their middle-round picks on a quarterback who they hope to groom as a potential successor to Flacco. However, they’ll still probably need to add a veteran at some point at the position. Mallett didn’t distinguish himself while running the first-team offense with Flacco sidelined because of a bad back last summer. But he’d come cheap, he has a solid rapport with Flacco and he knows the offense.
Other needs considered
Cornerback, pass-catching running back, interior pass rusher.