Ravens beat writer Jeff Zrebiec on what the team is looking to accomplish in Indianapolis at the NFL scouting combine. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
The NFL scouting combine doesn’t just begin the countdown to the draft. It marks the unofficial start of the crux of the offseason.
Executives, coaches, scouts, agents and over 300 of the top prospects in the 2018 NFL draft class descend on Indianapolis this week at a time when teams are finalizing their plans for free agency, trying to keep a few of their own players off the open market, getting their salary caps in order and deciding how they are going to bolster their respective rosters.
While the draft-eligible players take center stage with on-field workouts, physical testing and interviews with evaluators and reporters, team officials meet with executives from other organizations to ponder potential trades and touch base with agents to discuss possible deals.
The Ravens will have their full contingent in Indianapolis. Over the next five days — the combine runs Wednesday through Monday — general manager Ozzie Newsome, general manager-in-waiting Eric DeCosta, coach John Harbaugh and their respective staffs will get their most extensive glimpse of the 2018 draft class. While moves won’t necessarily be made this week, Ravens officials will have a better idea of how they can strengthen a roster that has several holes, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
These are five things on the Ravens’ agenda:
Newsome meeting the media
This normally wouldn’t be such a big deal, but Newsome hasn’t fielded questions about the team in a news conference setting since the final day of last year’s draft. He hasn’t been available to address the disappointing end of the 2017 season, what the Ravens need to do this offseason to end their three-year playoff drought and his own status with the organization.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti announced earlier this month that Newsome will step aside as general manager after the 2018 season. Newsome abhors talking about himself, but the questions about his future are unavoidable given his longevity and significance to both the franchise and the league.
There’s a lot more ground to cover as well about the Ravens’ roster, their free-agent decisions and their recent subpar drafts. Newsome is scheduled to speak to reporters Friday morning.
Homing in on the draft class
It will be weeks before the Ravens have to set their draft board ahead of the first round on April 26. Thus, no final decisions will be made on prospects this week. However, Ravens officials will have a much more thorough evaluation of certain prospects after watching them in on-field workouts and conducting interviews later in the evening.
Reporters love to ask prospects this week what organizations they’ve met with, but the reality is that it doesn’t mean much. Teams meet with a good chunk of the draft class in some capacity. It’s often more telling to see which players teams bring in for private visits closer to the draft.
There will be plenty of attention this week on the top quarterbacks: USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Wyoming’s Josh Allen. Bisciotti indicated that the Ravens likely won’t be in the first-round quarterback market, but they’ll surely be interested parties to the workouts.
What bears watching this week is how Calvin Ridley tests out and who emerges as the draft’s consensus No. 2 receiver behind the former Alabama standout. Among the candidates are Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk, Southern Methodist’s Courtland Sutton, Oklahoma State’s James Washington and Maryland’s DJ Moore. It will also be interesting to see if the top offensive tackles, a group that includes Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey, Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown Jr. and Texas’ Connor Williams, separate themselves.
Working on their own free agents
The official March 14 start to free agency is only two weeks away. By the end of the combine, teams traditionally have a better idea of their chances to sign their own pending unrestricted free agents and agents usually have a clearer grasp of the market for their clients.
At this point, it’s close to impossible to keep the top free agents from hitting the market. Nonetheless, Ravens officials will likely meet with the representatives of their prominent free agents this week to at least gauge where they’re at.
The Ravens have 12 total unrestricted free agents, a group headed by wide receiver Mike Wallace and center Ryan Jensen. The Ravens have some interest in retaining both, but it’s unlikely something gets done on either this week. It, however, wouldn’t be shocking if the Ravens are able to find common ground with a couple of their lesser-priced free agents, such as tight end-turned-offensive lineman Crockett Gillmore and defensive end Brent Urban.
Getting a better idea of free-agent/trade market
Per league rules, teams aren’t allowed to talk contract terms with the representatives of pending free agents until the tampering window from March 12 to March 14. However, that such talks still go on at the combine is a poorly kept secret.
The Ravens won’t have an abundance of salary cap space, but they should have enough flexibility to be active on a couple of fronts in free agency as they try to add a few offensive playmakers to a roster that doesn’t have nearly enough of them. The Ravens are expected to be involved in what is an underwhelming receiver market beyond the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Allen Robinson and the Los Angeles Rams’ Sammy Watkins, who are both candidates for a franchise tag. They have to be intrigued by the potential availability of Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham.
Official bidding won’t be able to start for a couple of weeks, but teams figure to leave Indianapolis with a general idea of what the price tags are on certain players.
It will also be a good time for the Ravens to check in with different teams who might have interest in trading a receiver. One such team is the Miami Dolphins, who are reportedly planning to listen to offers for top receiver Jarvis Landry this week. The Ravens figure to be involved depending on the asking price.
Finding salary cap space
There is no mystery about what the Ravens have to do to create cap space. They’ll cut a few veterans, with running back Danny Woodhead, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and safety Lardarius Webb being oft-mentioned as potential candidates. They also could restructure or alter a few contracts to create space.
Another way of making some room is signing standout middle linebacker C.J. Mosley to a contract extension that would lower his cap number in 2018. This would be a good week to heat up those negotiations.