According to the NFL Players Association, the Ravens have just north of $11 million in salary cap space, which seems like a decent amount until you consider that about a quarter of it will be used to pay draft picks and another significant chunk will be required to navigate roster moves during the season.
General manager Ozzie Newsome acknowledged last week that the team has enough salary cap space to make two or three more additions. That was before the Ravens signed wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who I assume would count as one. Still, if the Ravens history is a guide, I’d temper my expectations.
This traditionally is a time when Newsome and the Ravens have sat back and waited for the second and third wave of free agency to produce bargains they can’t refuse. This traditionally is a time when the Ravens have avoided signing true unrestricted free agents because they don’t want to lose compensatory picks. This traditionally is a time when the Ravens have filled out their roster with modest depth signings or by re-signing a few of their own free agents who aren’t getting the opportunities they hoped elsewhere.
That doesn’t mean the Ravens won’t sign another significant free agent. They were reasonably aggressive with tight end Eric Ebron, but it sounds like the Indianapolis Colts valued him a little bit more. Wide receiver Allen Hurns is now available and he’d certainly fill a Ravens need as a bona fide slot receiver. In a radio interview with a Charlotte, N.C.-based radio station Tuesday, Hurns estimated that 10 teams were interested in him. He mentioned seven and the Ravens were not one of them. That doesn’t necessarily mean they haven’t reached out, but the level of interest in Hurns might put him out of the Ravens’ range.
Ravens officials have vowed to be aggressive this offseason is augmenting their roster. But without a whole lot of salary cap remaining and not many difference-makers available, they’ll have to be pretty selective in their quest.
A nice insurance policy
The Ravens signed James Hurst last week to a four-year, $17.5 million deal with the expectation they’d lose both starting center Ryan Jensen (free agent) and right tackle Austin Howard (salary cap cut). Hurst’s return guaranteed that, regardless of what happened in free agency and in the draft, the Ravens would have five offensive linemen they’d be comfortable starting: Ronnie Stanley, Marshal Yanda, Alex Lewis, Hurst and Matt Skura.
But Hurst’s return doesn’t preclude them from trying to upgrade. The Ravens will consider drafting a right tackle and/or center. If they pick a first-round tackle — Texas’ Connor Williams or Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey are the most logical candidates — that player would most likely start immediately. That could push Lewis or Hurst into a reserve role.
While the perception that the Ravens paid too much money to Hurst for him not to start is understandable, remember that this is a team that lost both Lewis and Yanda to season-ending injuries by Week 2 last year. Having an experienced backup on the offensive line who can play every position but center is extremely important and necessary. That’s not a luxury item. It’s a necessity.
Essentially, Hurst was a well-paid insurance policy. His return allowed the Ravens to move on from Howard and repurpose the cap savings elsewhere. It also means the Ravens won’t enter the draft desperate to add a day-one starter at offensive tackle. They’d be comfortable with Hurst starting at either left guard or right tackle, but if he winds up being the top reserve on both the inside and outside, that wouldn’t be the worst thing either.
Ten quick thoughts
1) Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale was pictured in attendance at Florida State defensive back Derwin James’ pro day Tuesday. James is a freak and he’d add a much-needed jolt of athleticism, versatility and physicality to the defense. It makes perfect sense for the Ravens to target offense in the first round, but James and Georgia inside linebacker Roquan Smith are the two guys who could persuade me to wait until Round 2 to address the offense.
2) I saw some tweets from Ravens fans deriding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for making Jensen the highest-paid center in the league, but they shouldn’t. The Ravens were never going to pay a big number to keep Jensen, so how it worked out was a win-win. Jensen, a player who worked his butt off and battled through adversity to have a breakout 2017 season, is rewarded handsomely and the Ravens could now get a third- or fourth-round compensatory selection as a result.
3) Speaking of comp picks, I’ve questioned the Ravens and their obsession with them in the past, but there is no way I’d risk losing a third- or fourth-round comp pick to pick up a No. 3 or 4 wide receiver.
4) Crabtree isn’t going to strike fear in defensive backs with his speed, but here’s really the only thing that will matter for the Ravens: Will he be able to get open on a key third down late in the game and make a contested catch when the ball comes his way? He’s been able to do that his whole career. The Ravens haven’t had enough guys who can do that in recent years.
5) Unless there’s a good pass-catching tight end on the trading block that we don’t know about, the Ravens are better off just waiting for the draft, which is well stocked with tight ends, to fill that need. None of the current free-agent tight ends offer much of what they lack at the position.
6) I get a lot of questions about why a C.J. Mosley extension hasn’t been reached yet. One, he’s under contract for 2018. The Ravens are more focused on players who aren’t. Two, this isn’t some standard extension that you hash out in a 45-minute phone call. Mosley is in line to become one of the highest-paid middle linebackers in the league. Deals of this magnitude take time to compromise on.
7) I haven’t heard a whole lot about Howard’s market or whether he harbors ill will toward the team for releasing him last week, but if I’m the Ravens, I’d be trying hard to persuade him to return at a reduced rate. Unless the Ravens are determined to take a tackle in the first round, it’s going to be very tough for them to find a day-one starter at their position in the draft. And I don’t think either Lewis or Howard starting at right tackle is ideal.
8) When you take into account the Ravens’ recent roster subtractions, 14 players who ended last season with team hit the free-agent market and only one of them (Jensen) has found a new home. Take away Danny Woodhead, who retired, and you still have a dozen 2017 Ravens looking for work a week into free agency. That seems like quite a few.
9) Pernell McPhee returning and being used as a situational pass rusher would be a cool story. However, the Ravens still have Terrell Suggs and they believe Matthew Judon could become a Pro Bowl-type player. Za’Darius Smith remains a valuable performer and the Ravens need to know what they have this year in Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams. I don’t see McPhee as a fit.