While much of the attention is on the Ravens’ ability to keep some of their own unrestricted free agents, they have a couple of decisions to make on their restricted ones as well before the March 9 start of the new league year.
Their biggest call is on wide receiver Kamar Aiken, who was one of the offense’s top playmakers last season with a team-high 75 receptions, 944 receiving yards and five touchdown catches. The Ravens can either opt to put a second-round tender ($2.55 million) on the 26-year-old wide receiver; or they can use a low-round tender ($1.67 million).
The second-round tender would mean that if another team extended an offer sheet to Aiken, the Ravens would get a second-round pick if they declined to match the offer. If they sign him to the low tender, the Ravens would risk losing him for no compensation.
It seems like a no-brainer decision. Aiken is an ascending player who improved significantly throughout last year. He is tough and durable, having been one of the few Ravens on offense to play in all 16 games in 2015. With the Ravens having so many question marks at wide receiver, they need Aiken in the fold.
While there is little to no chance a team would be willing to sign him to a lucrative offer sheet and give up a second-round pick, the low tender would certainly leave the Ravens vulnerable to losing him. It’s a relatively poor free agent wide receiver class and the draft class at the position isn’t very deep either.
Aiken would be an attractive option for wide-receiver needy teams. The Ravens surely know this; however, they’ve been willing to gamble in situations like this in the past. Last season, they used the low tender on starting safety Will Hill, and it ultimately paid off, as no other teams extended an offer sheet despite plenty of speculation that somebody would.
The $880,000 in salary cap savings between the second-round tender and the low tender might not seem like a lot, but the Ravens are currently right up against the cap, pending the results of contract talks between the team and quarterback Joe Flacco. It all counts.
The Ravens’ other three restricted free agents are wide receiver Marlon Brown, tight end Chase Ford and safety Brynden Trawick.
Trawick is another interesting case. The 26-year-old reserve safety has a role in the team’s goal-line defense and has also become one of the Ravens’ top special teams performers, leading the group last season with nine tackles. The Ravens showed once again how much they prioritize special teams by agreeing to re-sign Albert McClellan Tuesday. They definitely want to keep Trawick, but at what cost?
The Ravens could opt to not tender Trawick a contract and then try and re-sign him at a reduced rate. But there are certainly no guarantees that Trawick will re-sign with the team.
Meanwhile, it would be surprising if Brown and Ford were tendered contracts. Brown had just 14 catches for 112 yards in 10 games last season before missing the final six contests with a back injury. After a standout rookie year, the former undrafted free agent has totally lost his place in the Ravens’ offense. The Ravens have several receivers on their roster that showed more than Brown last season and are probably in line for a bigger opportunity.
The Ravens need tight ends with Crockett Gillmore having both shoulders surgically repaired this offseason and Nick Boyle suspended for the first 10 regular-season games. However, there’s no way they’d invest $1.67 million in Ford, who they signed off the Minnesota Vikings practice squad in November. He did not play a game with the team.
It, however, is reasonable to assume that they’ll try to re-sign Ford at a lesser rate.