Ravens have a strong track record of keeping their top free-agent targets

Every offseason, there is handwringing about who the Ravens lose, and that will likely start again on March 11 when free agency opens and guys like Arthur Jones, James Ihedigbo and Michael Oher likely become the latest players to join the annual offseason exodus out of the organization.

But here's a question worth pondering: how many times have the Ravens actually lost a player or potential free agent that they made a significant effort to keep? It’s happened before, but not often.

Even last offseason, when they were seemingly losing a starter per day, the Ravens made little effort to sign some of their top free agents, allowing guys like Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, Ed Reed and Cary Williams to leave without putting up too much of a fight.

As for Anquan Boldin, remember, they offered him a pay cut, not a contract extension before they traded him.  Sure, salary cap constraints motivated the Ravens’ decision to not make a bigger attempt at re-signing the above-mentioned players but those are issues all 32 teams confront.

The Ravens, meanwhile, have a terrific track record of re-signing the guys that they view as priorities and not letting them hit the open market, guys like Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Marshal Yanda, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Marshal Yanda and Lardarius Webb.

And of course, tight end Dennis Pitta joined that group after he agreed to a five-year, $32 million contract extension late last week. The reality is that the Ravens traditionally keep the players that they really want to keep.

** The latest player to put my previous statement to the test will be left tackle Eugene Monroe. He clearly is the Ravens’ priority now that the Pitta deal is done but there wasn’t a whole lot of progress in the negotiations as of late last week. If the Ravens don’t put the franchise tag on Monroe by later today – and doing so would cost them $11.65 million – the next eight days will be crucial for them in getting a deal done. Monroe is highly regarded around the league and he’d automatically become one of the top one or two tackles available. Too many teams with too much cap room need offensive line help, making it very hard to believe that the Ravens will be able to keep Monroe if he gets to the open market.

** I don’t think the re-signing of Pitta would prevent the Ravens from drafting North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron if he is deemed the best-player available when they make the 17th overall pick in May’s draft.

Remember, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome talked about adding another legitimate target who could work underneath and turn intermediate passes into big gains. He never specified that guy had to be a wide receiver.

bron supposedly has all the tools and is talented enough where some draft pundits think he’ll be gone by the time the Ravens are on the clock for their first pick. If that’s the case, they probably would wait until later in the draft to address the position because it doesn’t appear any other tight ends are first-round worthy.

** This is more speculation than anything, but I wonder if Houston Texans free agent tight end Garrett Graham could be a guy that the Ravens show some interest in. Graham is only 27 years old and he has 77 catches and eight touchdowns over the past two seasons while mostly serving as Houston’s No. 2 tight end behind Owen Daniels. New Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and tight end coach Brian Pariani obviously know Graham really well from their days in Houston.    

** As the Ravens continue to negotiate with middle linebacker Daryl Smith with the hopes of keeping him off the open market, former Maryland standout D’Qwell Jackson continues his free agent tour.

Released last week by the Cleveland Browns, Jackson has already visited with the Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos and he reportedly has several other visits lined up in the days ahead.

What does his situation have to do with the Ravens who as of last week hadn’t expressed interest in the linebacker?

The significant, league-wide interest in Jackson is probably a good indication that Smith will have his share of suitors as well if he’s allowed to hit the open market. Sure, Jackson and Smith are different players. Smith will also be 32 when the 2014 season begins, while Smith will be 30.

But there are several teams out there looking for middle linebacker help and the type of leadership that both players provide. Smith signed a one-year, $1.125 million deal with the Ravens late last offseason and then he went out and led the team in tackles and played all but two offensive snaps.

The Ravens are going to have to make a bigger financial commitment to keep him and it certainly behooves them to do it before March 11.

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